Yes indeed, ! This animal looks like a very strange mix of multiple animals. I shall describe it to you, but first, let’s explore its habitat.
These curious critters live in burrows that they dig near streams and rivers in Australia. Their burrows may be as long as 85 feet (26 m), which seems like a lot of work for this little guy! How little, you ask? Excellent question, Wondernose! These amazing animals grow anywhere from 16-22 inches (40-56 cm) long from the tip of their nose to their rump.
All of them have claws; however, only males have a hollow, claw-like spur behind each ankle, which is connected to a venomous gland. They use this secret weapon against predators, and in battles with other males.
An average male weighs anywhere from 2-5 pounds (1-2 kg), the average female anywhere from 1-3 pounds (.5-1.4 kg).
With powerful webbed feet and a flatter-shaped body, it can swim quickly and easily through the water. On the feet, the front webbing can be extended out beyond the claws! Our critters fold these “extendable webs” to their palms when they are on land or digging.
Being good at swimming, but rather awkward on land, it hunts its food underwater. What do these fine fellows eat? Their diet mostly consists of streambed-dwelling invertebrates, but occasionally they will take on a frog or small fish. Adults do not have teeth. Instead, they have bony, plate-like structures which are used to grind up food.
While our mystery creature is underwater, it actually cannot hear, see, or smell much at all. You ask how then does it find its food, Wondernose? The answer to that may floor you. It has an amazing network of tiny feeling receptors and things called electroreceptors on its bill. The former picks up the tiniest movements, and the latter pick up natural electric currents produced by their prey.
I have forgotten myself! Did I say it has a bill? Some sort of bird, you think, Wondernose? A Burrowing Owl?
No, not a Burrowing Owl. They live in North and South America and most definitely do not hunt underwater! Besides this, an owl is said to have a beak, not a bill. In fact, Wondernose, this is not a bird at all; it is a mammal, although it does lay eggs.
Ah! That gave it away, Wondernose. Yes indeed! We are speaking of the platypus! Often called the duckbill, this is one of the five species of mammals that lay eggs; there is the duckbilled platypus, and four species of echidnas.
To prepare for the eggs she will lay, the female platypus builds a nest of leaves and grasses at the end of her burrow. Before she lays her eggs, she actually covers up the entrance of her burrow with dirt!
A platypus egg is about ½ inch (12 mm) in diameter and is leathery, similar to a reptile egg. A female lays from one to three eggs, but generally lays two. The eggs hatch at about ten days, after which the babies feed on their mother’s milk. These juvenile platypuses are sometimes called puggles. The puggles leave the burrow for the first time at about four months.
Now that our mystery has been uncovered, I can describe our quirky creature’s quirky features without giving it away! So why does this animal seem to be crafted of spare parts? Well, to begin, it has a sleek body, with fur similar to an otter’s, and its webbed feet have been likened to an otter’s as well. However, their feet have also been likened to a duck’s. Their tails are long and flat like a beaver’s. Interestingly enough, one use of a platypus’ tail is to store nearly half its body fat! The males also have those venomous spurs! A less commonly recognized feature is comical, conspicuous patches of white fur under their eyes. But perhaps the feature they are most known for are those long quirky, flat bills! They are long and wide, similar to a duck’s, but not exactly like one.
It has more recently been discovered that under UV light, platypus fur glows fluorescent green and blue! This is called biofluorescence, absorbing light and re-emitting it as a different color. What good does this do a platypus? As of now, we don’t know! Biofluorescence is also found in some species of flying squirrels, opossums, and springhares. Interestingly, all these species are nocturnal, which means they are most active from dusk to dawn, and sleep during daylight.
Biofluorescence is found in several fish and some invertebrates, but the platypus, opossum, flying squirrel, and springhare are the only mammals we know of that have this curious trait. Who knows? There could be more, just waiting for us to discover God’s amazing design!