Featured Creature: Platypus

Platypus eating a worm underwater (Photo: britannica.com)

What would you get if you crossed a duck, a chipmunk, and a dolphin?

A platypus!

Platypus eating a worm underwater (Photo: britannica.com)

The duck-billed platypus

Platypuses spend most of the day sporting webbed feet while they hunt for food in fresh waterways. After a long day of swimming, they climb onto land, where they retract their webbed feet to show off their claws, and dig their way into their home. 

Chipmunks aren’t the only ones with chubby cheeks!

The cheek pouches of platypuses allow them to carry their buffet for the day onto dry land. “At last,” the platypus says, “I can eat undisturbed!” Platypuses eat small animals that lurk in muddy waters including insect larvae, freshwater shrimps, and crayfish- even the occasional frog. 

Using water’s electricity- without the electrocution

When underwater, platypuses shut their eyes and ears. With zero visibility and muffled hearing, how do they find their prey, or swim without crashing into each other? The secret lies in a technique other water-dwelling animals, such as dolphins, are famous for: electroreception. The platypuses’ electroreceptors are found on their bills. With these receptors, they can detect electrical currents in the water, deciphering their prey’s tiniest movements. Since platypuses spend half of their day in the water, this talent comes in handy!

Why are platypuses important to our ecosystems?

Platypuses are only found on one continent: Australia. They are also the only members of their genus, Ornithorhyncus, and only one of five living species of monotremes, or mammals that lay eggs, along with four species of echidna. Therefore, from an evolutionary point of view, platypuses are an irreplaceable part of the web of life. Also, as meat-eating creatures, the presence of these animals ensures that the populations of the invertebrates they feed on are maintained. Platypuses have few predators, so they act as the top carnivore of the rivers and riverbanks they roam. An irreplaceable role, indeed.

How are human activities impacting platypuses?

Platypuses are classified as “Near Threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Pollution and agricultural run-off are causing algal growths in the waterways these animals depend on. Climate change has led to increasing bushfires and droughts, leaving the existence of rivers hanging in the balance. However, Australia has established protections for platypuses to ensure they thrive once again. Through conservation programs and climate solutions, there is hope for this iconic animal.

Although platypuses may seem like a combination of other well-known animals, this magnificent creature cannot be compared to any other. At Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, we celebrate the beauty in every species.