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Blue-tongue
A true-blue battler

Dingo
Unfairly judged?

Koala control
What to do about the "koala plague" on Kangaroo Island

The Kangaroo industry
Should we eat skippy?

Feral cat
Apex predator in Australia. Confined to urban areas in America.

Tasmanian Devil
The solution to mainland extinctions?

Tasmanian Tiger
A sad tale

Rabbits
Perhaps not so adapted to Australia

Wombat
Keg of muscle


 

 

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Platypus

The Platypus

"A Platypus is a duck designed by a committee" - anon

" we would like to mention the Platypus, estranged relative of the mammal, which has a duck-bill, otter's tail, webbed feet, lays eggs, detects its aquatic prey in the same way as the electric eel, and has venomous barbs attached to its hind legs, thus combining all 'typical' Australian attributes into a single improbable creature." Douglas Adams

When a Platypus specimen was first sent to England, the local scientists concluded that some smart-arsed Australian had tried to play a joke on them by sewing the feet and bill of a duck onto the body of a rat. The peculiar animal in front of them just looked too bizarre to be taken seriously.

But even more bizarre than its appearance is the Platypus' reproductive system. The Platypus is a monotreme which means that it lays eggs like a bird, but suckles its young like a mammal. The Echidna is the world's only other monotreme.

Although the Echidna is a brave little character that wanders the countryside, the Platypus is shy and heads back to its burrow if it feels danger is at hand. But if it is cornered, the males have a painful sting that is toxic enough to kill a dog.

Due to its bone structure as well as the its peculiar features, some zoologists have argued that the Platypus is the missing link between birds and the mammal like reptiles of the Triassic age of 190 million years ago. (It is not seen as a link between birds and mammals nor does the poison spur does not relate it to venomous reptiles.)

Because the Platypus keeps out of sight, most Australians are unaware just how widespread they are. Many of the big city's stormwater creeks are full of them, where they feed on worms and yabbies. Unfortunately, they are occasionally killed by people washing oil down the drain or using pesticides on their gardens.

In their natural billabongs and rivers, they are threatened by large hoofed animals degrading the river banks where they dig their burrows.

Questions to think about

Icon

Below are examples of the image of the Platypus being used in popular culture. For each example, try to speculate what the designers/selectors were hoping to achieve by using the image of the Platypus.  

1) The Platypus features on the Australian 20 cent coin and on the 1990 Gold $200.

2) The Platypus is the faunal emblem of NSW.

3) The Platypus features of the Australian Geographic logo.

4) Aboriginal myth - Many years ago Duck lived on safe and sheltered pond, along with lots of other animals of her kind. They never left this area because of their fear of Mulloka!.. the Water Devil.

However one day Duck ignored the wise advice of her elders and left the pond. She headed off downstream until she arrived at luscious piece of grass on the side of the river. Duck climbed out of the river and onto the grass, unaware that this was where the lonely Water-rat lived.

Water-rat ran out of his home, threatening her with his spear and before Duck could escape he grabbed hold of her and pulled her into his underground lair. Water-rat then forced her to mate with him. Eventually she escaped and returned to the safety of the pond she had left.

Later after Duck had laid eggs and all the off-spring had hatched, it was time for everyone to show-off their new families. Duck was ashamed and embarrassed about her young. Although they had bills and webbed feet, instead of the usual two feet, they had four, and instead of feathers they were covered in fur. On each hind leg, they also had a sharp spike similar to Water-rat's spear.

Duck's friends were very unforgiving. They taunted her and she was forced to move to another part of the river with her young. Her children were the first members of the Platypus race.

Industry

Below are methods that allow some people to make money out of the Platypus. How do you think working in each industry would affect attitudes to the Platypus?

1) Zoos - Although it is illegal to sell native animals, potentially there is a lucrative trade in breeding the Platypus and selling them to zoos and aquariums.

2) Fur - The Platypus fur is short and velvety and for many years it was hunted to make coats and rugs. All trade in Platypus fur is now illegal.

What is the plural?

Is the plural of Platypus Platypus, Platypi or Platypuses?

  1. Give your answer
  2. Research the history of the name and find out if you were right or wrong

Environmental Issues

Environmental problems
The cultural basis of defining environmental problems

Climate change in Australia
Looking to the past to predict the future

Indigenous environmentalism
Differences between Indigenous and non-indigenous land management

Sustainability
The dark side of sustainable environmental policies

Native pets
Why no pet wombats?

Bush fire prevention
To go native or exotic?