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  • Writer's pictureMartha Iserman

World's Weirdest

To continue with my Australian Animals series, this week I painted one of my favorite creatures of all time. The Platypus.

We all know this strange species as the most horrifying family in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe, but in real life, they're fascinating little critters.

Scientific representation of Mr.Rogers' Nightmares

Platypuses (not platypi, I know I was surprised too) are more than just an otter with a weird mouth. Here are some fun facts about what might be the world's strangest animal.

-They have waterproof fur and swim using their webbed front feet and large paddle-like tail to steer. They're carnivorous, digging up insects, shellfish, and worms from the bottom of the creeks and rivers where they live.

-They are one of very few venomous mammal species. The males have a spur on the back of their hind feet that secretes a venom that is not life-threatening to humans but is excruciatingly painful. As cute as they can be, don't hug a Platypus.

SIDE RANT: Poisonous means it's harmful when ingested, Venomous means harmful when it bites or sticks you. I recently re-read Jurassic Park, and Michael Crichton spent multiple chapters making himself sound "sciencey" with his chaos theory talk and then had his paleontologists call dilophosaurus "poisonous". Unless I missed the part where Dr.Grant snacked on dino steaks, he messed that up. I'm not surprised that Crichton got something wrong, it's just a pet-peeve of mine. Next time you refer to a snake as poisonous, just know that means you intend to eat it. END OF RANT.

-Platypuses are one of only two animals in the group monotremes. That means they are the only mammals that lay eggs rather than giving live birth. (The other species Echidnas will be featured in my series soon). Also, Platypus babies are insanely cute.

(Oh heeeyyy!!!)

-Platypuses have a very unique morphology. The body of an otter (otter-body), with a beaver-like tail, a duck-billed mouth, and webbed feet, they look like they were designed by a toddler. Apparently their skeleton looks reptilian. When they were brought from Australia to Britian, no one believed they were a real animal. They assumed someone had taxidermied various animals together. To be fair to them, this was the era of stapling monkeys to fish and calling them mermaids.

(Oh heeeyyy!!!)

-They live in burrows they dig into the side of freshwater areas in Tasmania and southeastern Australia (where I live!) There is a hiking trail about 100 yards from my house with a creek that supposedly is home to about a half a dozen, but we haven't spotted any yet. Apparently they come out at night and early morning, and who's kidding, I'm not getting up at 3am, not even for a monotreme.

-When swimming, a fold of skin covers their eyes and nostrils making them airtight. Their bills allow them to "see" underwater using electroreceptors and mechanoreceptors so that weird mouth isn't just for aesthetics.

-Platypuses don't have stomachs. Their food goes straight to their intestines. They also don't have teeth. Not much else to say about that.

-Despite how fascinating they are, not much is known about them. They aren't considered endangered, but scientists admit they have no idea how large or small the population is. Kinda makes me regret some life choices and wonder what things would be like if I had grown up to be a Platypiologist.

So next time you're spit-balling fictional creatures for your next science fiction collection and you feel that your ideas are a little too "out there" just remember the humble platypus.... and that you can't do any worse than the movie Avatar.

Also, if you want to torture a loved one... stream this on their chromecast from outside the house.

(Listen to that song once and tell me you didn't think that puppet was about to say something horrible.)

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