Five things you didn’t know about the duck-billed platypus

With the face of a duck, tail of a beaver and body of an otter, the duck-billed platypus looks like nature’s tribute to Dr. Frankenstein, but this mammal’s oddities don’t stop there.


They’re venomous

Both the male and female of the species are armed with thorny spurs on their hind limbs, but only the male’s spurs produce venom with an increasing potency during the breeding season. It’s thought that this is used against other males to win mates, but it’s also a defensive weapon against predators. Small animals many succumb to the venom and although it isn’t deadly to the average human, a sting from the platypus is said to be very painful.

The use electric ‘radar’

Together with the Guyana dolphin and echidna, the platypus is one of the only mammals known to use electrolocation to find its prey. Extremely sensitive receptors in the soft skin of its bill enable the animal to pick out the tiny electric field generated by small aquatic insects at the bottom of the rivers it inhabits. Sight, smell, and hearing play no part in the platypus’ hunting and it relies purely on its sense of electroreception, closing its eyes, ears, and nose when it’s underwater.

A platypus can growl

You’d almost expect this strange-looking creature to quack like a duck, or maybe squeal like a water rat, but the platypus actually growls. It’s rare, but in captivity it has been recorded to make a more canine-like noise when it feels threatened or annoyed. Rather than a high-pitched yap, it produces a low and resonant growl that belies its size and sounds similar to a terrier or other small dog.

They lay eggs

The platypus is a rarity among mammals as one of only five species that lays eggs, all found within the Australasian continent. As part of the taxonomic group Monotremes, the platypus is a primitive species and an evolutionary bridge between mammals and reptiles, its ancestors having split from birds and reptiles around 315 million years ago. Bizarrely, female platypuses have no nipples and rear young by sweating a fatty substance that the platypus pups suck from their mother’s fur.

They were thought to be a hoax

When a platypus skin arrived in England in 1798, biologists thought it was the product of a practical joker who had sewn a duck’s bill, a beaver’s tail, and four webbed feet onto a rabbit’s body. Despite the fact they were holding one in their hands, the creature was believed too fabulous to be probable.