The late afternoon sun filters through the leaves on the edge of a river in Australia. A worm wriggles along the murky bottom and comes to rest under a small pile of pebbles. The light fades, and the worm is well out of sight from hungry predators.
A small splash ripples near the riverbank. A web-footed hunter has emerged from its den. It closes its eyes and seals its ears and nostrils against the water. It paddles its powerful front feet. It zips through the water looking for food. The worm cannot be seen, but this hunter can
This platypus dives underwater.
With eyes closed, this platypus dives underwater and finds a tasty worm to eat.
Waving its sensitive duckbill-shaped snout back and forth, the hunter picks up a slight electric pulse of energy within the worm and zeroes in. Suddenly, it opens its toothless mouth, scoops up the pebbles and the worm, and darts up to the surface where it takes a deep breath then grinds the whole thing into a mush. The stones dribble out of its mouth, and the hunter swallows the soft wormy mush.
This amazing predator is a platypus, and it is one weird-looking creature. But the sum is greater than its parts, and it is one of the most unique animals on the planet. Platypuses have some amazing body-design features that set them apart from your average mammal. It starts from birth.
It’s early morning and the inky darkness is lifting over the river. A platypus uses her webbed front feet to paddle to the bank. She pulls herself out of the water and shakes briefly. Her coat is practically dry already. Once on land, she retracts the webbing in her feet and waddles to her den. She wriggles through the opening. It is warm and dry. She begins to dig soil loose with her sharp claws to create a new chamber off the main burrow.
Snout first, she enters the chamber and kicks the soil with her back feet to seal herself off. Once settled, she lays one leathery egg. Then she lays a second egg. They are small—the size of marbles. She holds the eggs between her body and tail to keep them warm.
After about two weeks, the marble-sized eggs tremble and tear. Out of each egg emerges a bean-size, pink platypus. They are hairless, blind, and helpless as they undertake the long journey of a few inches to their mother’s belly. When they reach the spot, they latch onto her fur and wait to be fed.
Like all mammals, platypuses nurse their babies after they hatch. But unlike other mammals, they nurse them in a unique way. Milk leaks from openings between the folds of her belly skin. The babies suck the milk up through her fur.
The babies live on milk for three to four months. When they are able to swim and eat by themselves, they are ready for life on their own.
Platypuses nurse their young in burrows.
When the first platypus was sent to scientists in England in 1799, it caused quite a stir. Most were convinced it was a hoax. They thought someone had sewn together bits of animals to play a joke. How could a mammal have a beak, webbed feet, and lay eggs? For that matter, how could a bird have fur and nurse babies? Because the platypus was so different, no one could believe it was real.
Platypus eggs are the size of marbles.