Also known as the duck-billed platypus, this animal seems to have many aspects that resemble other animals that have nothing in common. I think this is mainly what makes them so fascinating. But first, a look at their size. The platypus generally averages about 20 inches from head to tail and can weigh a bit more than 5 pounds.
Physically, the platypus has many odd traits. The body itself is very broad and flat. It has fur that is very slick and waterproof--similar to an otter. The tail is very flat like that of a beaver; however, the tail of the platypus is used mainly as fat storage. They have webbed feet which is common for aquatic mammals, and like a duck, they have a bill on their face which is absolutely unheard of in mammals.
The bill itself is not entirely like a bird's beak. Only the bottom part of the bill actually moves; the top part is stationary and also contains holes for the nostrils. It is a really strange arrangement for a very strange animal. It is no wonder that when naturalist Johann Blumenbach studied them in 1800, he gave them the name ornithorhynchus paradoxus--the latter word suggesting that the creature made no real sense.
It gets weirder. I'll just come out and say it: They lay eggs. Yes, it's a mammal that lays eggs. What is the world coming to?! The eggs are laid in little ground burrows. The female takes care of the eggs and subsequent children entirely. The males don't want to have anything to do with the process other than the breeding. But wait, it gets weirder.
When the children hatch, like most mammals, they need mother's milk! But would you believe that the mother has no teats? Where does the milk come from? Check it out: The mother will roll over onto her back, and the milk will seep through pores on the skin. Her abdomen has a depression on it--like a bowl--where the milk will pool. Here the children will gather around and lap the milk up. I swear I am not making this up.
Their diet at least makes sense. As most aquatic animals do, they prefer seafood. They spend much of their time swimming around looking for worms, freshwater shrimp, and an odd crustacean called a yabby which we know locally as a crayfish. Platypuses--not platypi by the way--are carnivores. They need to eat up to 20% of their body weight in food every day, so that is really what they spend most of the day doing.
I have come across two notable platypuses in fiction. The first was in the 1899 book by Ethel C. Pedley called "Dot and the Kangaroo." I have mentioned this book before. In the story, Dot runs into a very grumpy platypus who is extremely picky about everything. He prefers to be called by his original scientific name of Ornithorhynchus Paradoxus--which is now obsolete. Whenever Dot said anything to him that he did not like--and there were many--he would stand up on his back legs in a pompous way and call her out on her lunacy! It was really one of two of my favorite parts of that book.
In the 1984 children's cartoon "Adventures of the Little Koala," there was a very charming platypus character named Duckbill Playtypus; although, the children had simply nicknamed him Bill for short. Bill was a very friendly character who lived by his own wits. He would gather up trash that the other animals threw away and use it to build new parts of his home--which by the way floated on top of a freshwater pond. Whenever the children could not figure out how to make or build something, they often went to him to see if he had any ideas. I absolutely love the character.
I don't personally think that a platypus would think himself weird at all. As characters, I think they would think normal people weird. Consider that they have so many qualities of so many other animals. It might be possible for them to think themselves quite capable in any situation while everyone else being at a loss. This may or may not be true, but it might likely end up that they would live together in their own place and shun the rest of the world. In the aforementioned two versions of the platypus in fiction, they were indeed outcasts, and I think that is actually plausible. As always, whether or not they are good or evil is up to them.
So there you have it. We begin the new Spotlight series with an amazing and weird animal. Platypuses are a calcavade of different animals rolled into one, yet we still classify them as mammals. Their weirdness is exactly why they are loved around the world. I would not have it any other way.
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|Illustration from "Dot and the Kangaroo"|
|Duckbill "Bill" Platypus from "Adventures of the Little Koala"|