The Strange Stinging Mammal

Platypus-Jul-8-BlogOne of the more unusual mammals on Earth must be the platypus. Many insects and deep-sea creatures could almost be from another planet in how they differ from us, but when it comes to mammals I think the platypus takes the prize.

Platypuses (or platypodes, but never platypi – which is the same for octopus) are monotremes, which means they lay eggs. There are only five known species of monotremes; the four others are spiny anteaters called echidnas.

To see a platypus, you’d have to travel all the way to Australia. Australians are proud of their platypus – it often appears on mascots at national events and is featured on the 20-cent coin. It is also the emblem of New South Wales.

Platypus-sideThe platypus is strange, not so much because it lays eggs, but because of its appearance. It has the body of a mole or otter, but its feet are webbed and it has a huge bill rather like a duck. What’s even odder is the beak looks distinctly like it has been haphazardly stuck on – take a look at this picture to see what I mean. In fact, it was so unlike anything they’d seen before, when naturalists from Europe first came across it, they thought it was a hoax!

If that weren’t enough, the eyes of the platypus contain double cones – a rarity in mammals. In addition, it is one of very few mammals to produce venom. Luckily for us, its venom is not lethal to humans but it has been described as excruciatingly painful. The male platypus has a pair of spurs in his rear limbs which secrete venom. This venom is only active during the breeding season which suggests its use is for competitive males. Even so, any animal will defend itself with whatever means available if it feels threatened. One former member of the Australian Army was attacked on the hand when trying to rescue a stranded platypus. He described the pain as worse than being struck by shrapnel.

Our amazing planet is awash with plenty of curious creatures and plants. At Education Quizzes we are passionate about nature – that’s why we have over sixty free-to-play quizzes all about the natural world. From toads to trees and mammals to minerals, there’s bound to be something there for you. So go and test your natural knowledge today!

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