Cochise College        Student Papers in Geology
Geology Home Page              physical geology  historical geology  planetary  gems
Roger Weller, geology instructor
wellerr@cochise.edu


Duckbill Platypus
Jennifer Hermalik
Historical Geology
Spring 2006

                                The Duckbill Platypus

The Duckbill Platypus

The Duckbill Platypus certainly is amongst the world’s most unique and unusual animals and for good reason too. The Duckbill Platypus’ are mammals because the females produce milk and nurse their young; however they are different as the Duckbill platypus, strangely lays eggs. This makes the Duckbill Platypus one of only three Monotremata that walk this earth. Originating from the word monotreme, which means a “single whole or opening”, Monotremata are mammals that lay eggs. The Duckbill platypus is a mammal that lays eggs.

Figure 1. Three types of monotrema

 
A. Duckbill Platypus

B. Echida

C. Zaglossus bruijnii

Appearance

The duckbill platypus’ abnormalities are evident in its appearance alone.  Their bodies are streamlined and flat with a thick covering of hair all over except on the feet and the bill. The back of a Duckbill Platypus is a dark brown and their stomachs are a light yellow. They have a thick beaver like tail containing fatty tissue which is used to store energy. Their legs are short. The front feet of the duckbill platypus are fully webbed and the back feet are only partially webbed, but all feet have large nails for digging. On the male Duckbill Platypus there are hollow spurs on the ankles that contain venom. They use this Venom as protection. An obvious feature of the duckbill platypus is but of course its bill. The bill is long, skin covered, leathery, and shaped like the bill of a duck. It’s soft and sensitive to the touch with many nerves. The bill has nostrils for breathing which can be closed when the duckbill platypus is under water. The eyes are located directly behind the bill and ear slits directly behind the eyes. Duckbill platypus’ can weigh between one and a half pounds to five and a half pounds and can be twenty six inches long up to thirty nine inches long.

 

Figure 2 A. Typical size of a Duckbill Platypus

.

Figure 2B. Coloring of a Duckbill Platypus

 

Functions of Features

Duckbill Platypuses flat tails not only store fat for energy but in combination with their webbed feet help the Duckbill Platypus to swim. The hind feet are less powerful then the forefeet and are used for steering. Their thick fur helps keep them warm and dry as it provides the platypus with water resistance.  The bill of the Duckbill Platypus has electro receptors which are used to help find prey. The Venom the males have located in the hollow spurs on their ankles can be injected in to a predator. The venom is strong enough to cause an immense amount of pain in a human and powerful enough to kill a dog.

Eating

Although Duckbill platypuses are carnivores, they have no teeth. In substitute they use grinding pads in their mouths to grind up food. Duckbill platypuses eat early in the morning and again in the evening. They eat frogs, shrimp, larvae, fish, and tadpoles. The Duckbill platypus finds its food by diving to the bottom of the river and wiggling its bill into the sand and mud. Instead of using their ears and eyes to capture prey they use pits in their bills that detect electrical charges coming from possible prey. The food is then stored in cheek pouches behind the bill until it surfaces and then is moved forward into the bill. It is then grinded with the grinding pads.

Figure 3 A. Picture of Duckbill Platypus swimming



Figure 2B. Platypus looking for food
 

Reproduction

The Duckbill Platypus reaches sexual maturity at two years of age. They mate in the months of September and October. September and October are spring months in the southern hemisphere where the Duckbill Platypus is found. At this time, the female platypus prepares a breeding burrow which could vary anywhere in between fifteen all the way up to sixty feet. In the burrow she then prepares a nesting chamber and lines it with leaves and grass. Two weeks after mating, the female will return to this burrow and plug the opening with earth. Next she retires to her nest and usually lays two, although sometimes one or three eggs.  The eggs are round and about two centimeters in diameter.  They are white with tough wrinkly shells. The mother duckbill Platypus curls around the eggs and keeps them incubated for about ten days until they hatch.

Baby Platypuses

A newborn duckbill platypus is basically helpless. They are about two and a half centimeters in length, blind, and naked. A baby Platypus nurses from pores that ooze milk on the mother’s underside of the body. The babies live and stay with the mother while being raised. The father duckbill platypus does not help raise the young. They develop rather slowly and aren’t ready to leave the nest until seventeen weeks of age.

Habitat

Duckbill Platypuses live along streams and rive beds mostly in Eastern Australia and Tasmania. They burrow one entrance underwater and another above water so that they have two entrances to their burrow. The burrows may be up to fifty feet long. The Duckbill Platypus makes its burrow in the riverbanks soft mud using its front feet like shovels to dig. Adult platypuses live by themselves and each one on its own territory. If the territory gets too crowded for the young platypus, it will find a new territory and settle in. Platypuses only tend to be territorial during the mating season.

Figure 4 A. Platypus is a fake environment.


Figure 2B. Platypus on a muddy bank

 

Platypuses Today

The Duckbill platypus was hunted for is fur and persecuted for many years by fishermen. Their species came very close to extinction. Now the Duckbill Platypus is protected by law in the National Parks Wildlife Act of 1974, and the population had begun to grow back to a healthy size, however today people are still destroying their habitats. Under regular circumstances a Duckbill Platypus can live up to fifteen years of age.

Figure 5 A. Illustration of a Duckbill Platypus

 

 

Figure 5B. Lady and Duckbill Platypus Costume