A Curious Hoax?
The platypus is so unusual that baffled 19th century European naturalists, as described in David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities. Although it was quite obviously a mammal, the fact that it laid eggs, had a venomous spur, had the bill of a duck and webbed feet all led its discoverers to consider whether it was actually real.
Both male and female platypuses are born with spurs on their hind feet, but only the males are able to produce venom. The venom could be lethal to smaller animals, but not to humans, who it would only cause a painful sting. It is thought that the males use the venom as a weapon during the breeding season.
Platypuses are one of only a few mammals able to use electroreception in locating their prey, a technique usually reserved by fish!
By detecting electric fields generated by muscular contractions with receptors in their bills, the platypus can find prey items hidden amongst the murky depths of their aquatic home.
- One of few venomous mammals.
- One of few mammals that can sense fields of electricity.
- The platypus is a monotreme, an egg-laying mammal.
- Platypus means "flat footed" in Greek.