Behind the… Platypus?

The platypus has been my favorite animal for as long as I can remember.  While other children liked giraffes, bears, whales, elephants, and other ‘more typical’ animals, I enjoyed talking about the characteristics of monotremes.

For years, scientist didn’t know what to do with the platypus, and European naturalists that first encountered it thought it was an elaborate hoax.  Since the original discovery of this animal in 1798, platypuses have been studied for their unique anatomy, physiology, and behavior.  As a side note, there is no mutually agreed-on plural form for platypus.  Platypi is a common colloquialism and technically an incorrect plural form; scientists typically use platypuses or platypus.  Platypuses are monotremes, or mammals that lay eggs instead of live young.  The four species of echidna and the platypus make up the only monotremes on the planet.  Along with being one of the five species of mammals that lay eggs, platypuses also are unique in the use of electrolocation.   Similar to echolocation as used by bats and dolphins, electrolocation is locating prey by detecting the electrical current emitted by muscle contractions of animals.  Platypuses close their eyes, ears, and nose every time they dive under water and rely solely on the phenomenon of electrolocation to find food.

I identify with this odd, reclusive, semi-aquatic monotreme, being odd, reclusive and semi-aquatic myself.  An animal that is so atypical compared to other mammals really appeals to me.  The platypus is unique.  Different.  It doesn’t blend in with the rest of the animal kingdom– it  has its own family, genus, and species.  And despite its new-found fame in pop culture with appearances on the show Phineas and Ferb on the Disney channel in the form of Perry the Platypus, and other references in song and media, this solitary animal remains my favorite for being a symbol of diversity and uniqueness.

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