Australia is a country with extremely rich and unique biodiversity. The fauna in Australia contains a multitude of strange animal species, at the top of this list, we find the Platypus. In short, a Platypus is a small mammal with hair, webbed feet, a beak and it lays eggs!! In this article we will cover almost everything you need to know about this unique Australian animal.
Location & Habitat
The Platypus is found only in the eastern parts of Australia, from the Australian alps to the bottom of the peninsula of Cape York and throughout Tasmania. The Platypus is a semi-aquatic animal that spends most of its life in the water. They live in rivers, streams, lakes and ponds where they can feed on their favourite food: prawns. Females build a network of burrows along with their habitat in the same manner as rabbits. The burrows are intertwined with several chambers, one being used especially for the laying of the female’s eggs.
The Platypus is a small brown mammal covered with hair and has a gray-bluish jaw, which is often called a beak. In addition to allowing him to feed, this jaw has sensory organs that allows him to locate his prey in the water. Though the Platypus has four webbed feet, it only uses its front legs to move through the water. On average, a Platypus can dive 30 – 35 seconds in search of food but could very well stay under the water for more than 3 minutes. It is believed that the Platypus can dive up to 70 times in just one hour.
In the Platypus’s natural Australian habitat, it can live an average life of ten years. The size of an adult is between 40 and 50 centimeters which do not vary from one geographical region to another. However, in southern Australia the animal tends to be relatively “fat” compared to those in the north. This is due to the difference of climate and cold changes.
Another interesting fact is that the males have a sting or “dart” on their front legs. This sting allows them to defend themselves by injecting venom. It is one of the few poisonous mammals in the world. Recently researchers have discovered that an enzyme present in its venom would treat human diabetes. But unlike the snake, the Platypus only injects its venom in case of stress. So, scientists have not yet found an effective way to recover this venom without harming the animal.
Reproduction of the Platypus
The Platypus belongs to the monotreme family. Like echidna, they are the only oviparous mammal, meaning that they lay eggs!
The female Platypus are territorial therefore the males move along the rivers and waterways during the breeding season in search of a mate. The males compete for a female to decide which of them can mate with her. This fight is not violent. The winner is the one who will manage to climb on the back of the other after multiple water rides!
Even if the female has several partners during a season, she will usually lay only one egg per season and per year (rarely two at a time)! She will lay this egg in the main chamber of its network of burrows. She will close this room with mud each time she leaves it to protect the egg from possible predators such as snakes. Once the egg hatches, the female will condemn the room with branches rather than clogging it. Once mature, the young Platypus will leave the area if it is a male and if it’s a female she will stay in the same territory. Thus, on the same territory, one can find several generations of females coming from the same family.
Threats of Platypus
The Platypus has several predators such as dingoes, snakes, foxes, goanna’s and crocodiles in northern Australia. In the past, the Australian Platypus has suffered from being hunted for its fur and from various crustacean traps being used in its habitat. Today it is a protected species that is “of minor concern” on the list of endangered species of IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature). On the other hand, its habitat has been fragmented by different human constructions and it the platypus that has disappeared from South Australia.
Where to see Platypus in Australia?
There is a multitude of places where you can marvel at the strange but cute animal. Keep in mind that the Platypus is usually nocturnal. It can be seen on the surface of the water early in the morning or before sunset if the water is clear enough. On the other hand, in spots like Broken River in Queensland, they can be observed all day long!
Here is a list of places you are almost guaranteed to spot a Platypus in its natural habitat:
- Queensland: Broken River in Eungella National Park, not far from Mackay
- New South Wales: Nymboida River or Bombala River
- Victoria: Lake Elizabeth in Great Otways National Park
- Tasmania: Latrobe in the Warrawee Forest Reserve
There is even a diving center that offers trips to the natural habitat of the Platypus. This center gives very interesting and exclusive information about their way of life: The Rainforest Scuba Center at the entrance to Eungella National Park.