Endemic from Eastern Australia including Tasmania, they live in freshwater rivers. I saw them in the Tablelands and also at Broken River, in Eungella NP, which is famous for being the Platypus capital of the world!
Who are they?
Australians are really proud of their platypus and I’ve learnt why they have such a fascination for this odd animal.
The platypus is a semiaquatic mammal. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth! It is also one of the few venomous mammals, the male platypus having a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans. One person in the Mackay region has been stung by one and he said this has been more painful than all his war injuries…
The unique features of the platypus make it an important subject in the study of evolutionary biology and a recognisable and iconic symbol of Australia! It has appeared as a mascot at national events and is featured on the reverse of its 20-cent coin!
Until the early 20th century, it was hunted for its fur, but it is now protected throughout its range. Platypus don’t have direct predators but they are vulnerable to the effects of pollution. It is however not under any immediate threat.
Where they live?
How they look like?
The unusual appearance of this egg-laying, duck-billed,beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some considering it an elaborate fraud.
With its rubbery bill, thick fur and waddling walk, the platypus looks a little odd. But this unique Australian has evolved to operate very efficiently in its environment. Each of the Platypus’s unusual features has indeed a practical use:
They are bigger in Tasmania as in Queensland, because of the cold, they stock more fat to resist to the weather.
Usually platypus are smaller than most people think.
Male: about 50 cm long and weighs about 1,5kg
Female: about 40 cm long and about 1kg
What they usually do?
They spend most of their time looking for food or resting in their burrows.
*Feeding blind: platypus spend about 12 hours every day diving for food such as crayfish, shrimp and insect larvae. With eyes closed, they use the receptors in their bills to detect tiny electrical currents given off by the muscular contractions of their prey. Only monotremes have such receptors!
*Mashing food: platypus can spend up to 10 minutes under water, but usually dive and re-surface more frequently. Any food it finds is stored in its cheek pouches and brought to the surface, then mashed between grinding plates on the upper and lower jaw before being swallowed.
*Burrowing for safety reason: they live in a short burrow just above water level. The entrance is a horizontal oval, often under tree roots. When breeding, a female will build a longer burrow (up to 20 m!!) and block the entry to protect herself and her young. The burrow ends in a nesting chamber, where she incubates one to three eggs by holding them pressed to her belly with her tail.
Best time to observe them
Platypus are not inquisitive animals and are easily scared of noise and people. To increase your chances of seeing one in the wild, respect these viewing times and of course be discret and quiet!