A bird, reptile and mammal, all in one?
The platypus is one of the world’s great mysteries. This unique mammal combines the looks and traits of several different animals.
Its most pronounced feature is its duck-like bill — hence a common second name for the animal, the “duck-billed platypus.” The bill looks like a duck’s but is actually much softer and acts almost like a snout. The platypus uses its snout to scoop up food — usually worms, other insects and small shrimp — from the bottom of lakes or streams.
The platypus also has webbed feet — but the similarities to a duck end there.
Its long, muscular tail is similar to a beaver. Its body and fur look just like an otter. Males carry venom that can cause considerable pain to humans. And the female platypus lays eggs like a bird or reptile, making it one of only two mammals (the echidna is the other) to do so.
Also unlike most mammals, a platypus lacks teeth. It “chews” its food by grinding it up along with gravel and other sediment it scoops up from the ground as it hunts for food.
The platypus swims for up to 12 hours a day to find food, but otherwise lives on land. Many scientists think they are the earliest-evolving mammal — which might explain their unique characteristics.
A few other facts about the platypus:
- The plural of platypus is a source of debate. Scientists usually say “platypuses” or stay at “platypus” because there is no universal standard in the English language.
- A platypus finds food by using sensors in its bill to pick up electric impulses from moving sources of food like worms and insects.
- The platypus is extremely popular in its native Australia. It has served as a mascot for athletic events, including the Summer Olympics, and has been featured on Australian stamps.
- The world’s most famous platypus is “Perry The Platypus” from the popular “Phineas and Ferb” cartoon. Perry is the title characters’ pet platypus, but lives a secret life a James Bond-like “Agent P.”