Platypus

I don’t want to be that guy who just recycles whatever is out there for you to find on the internet anyway, so I’d just like to draw your attention to this site which lists some of the more fascinating aspects of this creature.

Now, whether you’ve bothered to click on that link or not, if you ignore the picture above for a moment and just imagine that you are an early discoverer of this amazing little beast. Your description of it would have to go somewhere along the following lines. In this scenario you are person A, and person B is the uninitiated person with no idea what a platypus is:

A: Hey. You’ll never guess what I’ve just discovered.

B: A Yowie? Quick, contact the YRDB!

A: Nope. Better.

B: Oh, never mind. Okay. Shoot.

A: So, it’s this little beast that’s got the body of a small otter, and a duck bill.

B: Curious. So is it a bird or a mammal?

A: A mammal. Because it’s got fur, is warm blooded, and produces milk.

B: Righto.

A: But it doesn’t have nipples.

B: Well that’s no fun.

A: So it secretes the milk via pores in its skin and its young licks up the milk from its abdomen.

B: Sure.

A: Oh, and it lays eggs.

B: Whaaaat?

A: Yeah, like a bird. Mammals that lay eggs are called monotremes. Although, from what I can tell, the only other monotreme in existence today is another cool little Australian animal called the Echidna. The Echidna’s mating ritual is pretty funky actually, it—

B: Hang on. So it produces eggs and milk?

A: Yep.

[Pause]

B: Huh.

A: What?

B: Oh, nothing. I was just thinking of pancakes. Are you sure it’s not a bird?

A: Positive. In fact, platypus babies are even born with teeth.

B: Savage.

A: Yeah, but they don’t keep them. Which is funny considering they are totally carnivorous. They eat freshwater crayfish, insect larvae, and worms.

B: But try to tempt it with a plump bit of lettuce or some breadcrumbs and it will turn its bill up at you.

A: Precisely. If it’s a bloke it might even be pissed off enough with you to stab you with one of its venomous spurs.

B: Eh? It’s venomous? Like a snake?

A: Well, as it’s a mammal, let’s go with vampire bat. Al-though… bats and snakes use their teeth, but the spurs on the platypus are on their hind legs.

B: Like a cowboy.

A: Yeah, like a cowboy.

B: Cool. Would it hurt?

A: Absolutely. It won’t kill you, but grown men have found the pain from the venom so excruciating that they are temporarily incapacitated. And then the pain can continue for several weeks.

B: Ouch.

A: Uh huh. But wait… there’s more.

B: Go on.

A: It’s got no stomach.

B: Really? So no diarrhoea then?

A: Or constant diarrhoea I suppose, depending on how you look at it.

B: Fair point. I wonder what happens when it drinks probiotic yoghurt…

A: But you know what the best part is.

B: It gets better?

A: It uses electrolocation to find its prey.

B: Like sharks?

A: Kinda, yeah. They create electric fields via muscle contractions and when a shrimp shaped “blip” turns up on its radar… Goodbye tiny crustacean!

B: Deadly.

A: Uh huh.

B: What. A. Beast.

A: I know, right?

B: So, just to recap, it’s kind of a mix between a mammal, a bird, a reptile, and a fish.

A: Yep.

B: Or a cross between a seal, a duck, a snake and a shark.

A: That’s correct.

[Pause]

B: So… er… exactly how big is this thing again?!

You get the idea. Now you can see why when the first platypus was shipped back to England the first thing they did was check for stitching around its bill as they assumed it was all some sort of practical joke.

I also like the fact that in world war two, Winston Churchill asked to have a platypus sent back to the UK as he was keen to expand his exotic pet collection, and no doubt inspire the troops to victory. (Incidentally, Churchill’s pet collection included a macaw parrot that lived to the ripe old age of 104, the oldest living parrot on record, which he taught to swear obscenities about the Nazis.) Unfortunately “Winston” didn’t survive long enough to hear Charlie the parrot squawk vulgarities about Hitler and died shortly after his trans-global voyage, but apparently Churchill had the platypus stuffed and kept him on his desk for the rest of the war.

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