The Platypus or Duckbill
Robert M. McClung
The platypus lives in eastern Australia and Tasmania. It always lives near streams, lakes, or ponds, and it gathers its food in the water. The male measures as much as 60 centimeters (2 feet) in length and may weigh about 2 kilograms (4 1/2 pounds). The female is smaller. Both sexes have thick coats of soft, dark brown fur. Platypuses were once widely hunted for their fur. Today, hunting these animals is against the law.
All four feet of the platypus are webbed. The webs of the front feet extend some distance beyond the claws. These outer portions are folded under when the platypus walks about on land. The tail is broad and rather thick. The adult male has sharp spurs on his hind legs. The spurs are connected to poison glands and can give painful wounds to an attacker.
The broad, flattened bill is covered with soft, flexible skin. In this skin are sensitive nerves that help the animal locate food. Adult platypuses have no teeth. Hard ridges on their bills help to crush and grind up their food.
Platypuses live in burrows that they dig in the banks of streams. They sleep in their burrows during the day but come out at dusk to hunt for food. Their appetites are enormous. Swimming along stream bottoms, they nuzzle through the mud and pebbles, gobbling worms, insects, crayfish, and other small freshwater animals.
The platypus breeds during September and October. Those are spring months in the Southern Hemisphere. At this time the female prepares a breeding burrow, which may vary in length from 5 to 18 meters (15 to 60 feet). In this burrow she prepares a special nesting chamber and lines it with leaves and grass. After she has mated, the female goes into her burrow and plugs it up with earth. Then she retires to her nest and lays her eggs--usually two but sometimes one or three. The eggs are almost round and are about 2 centimeters (3/4 inch) in diameter. They are white and have wrinkled, leathery shells. The mother platypus curls around the eggs and incubates them for about ten days. Then the babies hatch.
Newborn platypuses are blind, naked, helpless, and little more than 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) long. They nurse by drinking milk that oozes from pores on the underside of the mother's body and dribbles onto her fur. The young platypuses develop quite slowly. They finally leave the nest when they are about 17 weeks old.