The Mysteries of the Platypus

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The Mysteries of the Platypus

by Yulia O'Neil, 11

A March 2024 Monthly Essay Challenge Winner 

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The platypus flows through time like the way it swims in the many rivers of Australia. It adapts to every problem that nature throws at it. Through convergent evolution,it evolves a bill like a duck and venom like a snake. Even though we don't know the use of half its features it is still one of the world's most extraordinary animals, and scientists are discovering new things about the platypus all the time. Understanding this weird creature that we call the platypus can help us better understand the world around us. Also, if we can understand the platypus it can help us figure out the evolution of other odd animals.

About 205 million years ago mammals split off from other animals. Then about 103 million years ago monotremes (which are a group of mammals that lay eggs) split off from other mammals. The platypus evolved all their weird features, but 50 million years ago marsupials (a type of mammal that has a pouch) arrived in Australia. They were better adapted to life on land and eventually drove monotremes to near extinction, only the platypus and the echidna (the echidna looks kinda like a mix between an anteater and a hedgehog ) survived.    

Many people believe that the platypus survived because it can swim and with its eggs safe and buried in a nest it can swim and hunt. This is further backed up by the fact that the echidna was thought to also be semi-aquatic. Now people are finding new and weird things about the platypus all the time as well as its amazing history.

As it turned out the platypus has the ability to become watertight. It can close its ears, nose, and eyes, but how can it know where it's swimming? Well, its bill is mechanoreceptive (sensitive to pressure ) and electroreceptive (sensitive to the electric signals animal muscles make). It uses these abilities to sense its prey in the water.

One of the platypuses' weirdest features is its venom spurs. For some reason, they are only found on the back legs of male platypuses. No one knows what they are used for, but some people believe that it's to protect mates from other males. Scientists have found that its venom is more alike with snakes than other mammals, as well as the fact that platypus venom causes immense pain and swelling that isn't affected by normal painkillers (yikes!). I would also like to mention the fact that the platypus sweats milk, this is how it nurtures its young.

The platypus got its weird features for various reasons however experts say that it is likely not because of environmental changes. It uses those abilities to survive and thrive. For example, it buries its eggs in a nest until they hatch. This way it can leave, hunt, and live a normal platypus life. It also seems worthy to note that platypuses have the ability to lay eggs because when mammals split off from birds and reptiles they lost their ability to lay eggs, all mammals except for monotremes. Because of this, their eggs have a lot in common with turtle eggs.

Okay so picture this: The year is 1788. Europeans arrived in Australia. They notice a strange animal in a river, and believing that it is a hoax they ignore it. However, it is very real and called the platypus. Upon finding out that it is real they hunt it for its fur and destroy its river homes, causing the platypus to become endangered. But, recently the platypus has made a comeback due to it being labeled “near threatened.”

All in all, platypuses are pretty  weird but also really cool. Of course we do not know everything about the platypus but scientists are finding new things every day. Not only that they need to be protected and studied. Platypuses are some of the world's weirdest creatures and they deserve to be protected by law. I hope that someday we can find out all of the secrets hiding behind that duck-billed face.

Photo: Ronald Bradford of unsplash

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