|The duckbill platypus, a playful aquatic mammal,
has a soft and pliable bill that it uses to sweep the riverbed for food. It
is one of only three mammals in the world to lay eggs. The duckbill platypus
lives along slow moving rivers, where it burrows into the banks and feeds
in the water. Although it is not threatened in the wild, modern pressures
on its freshwater habitat mean that it may need careful protection in the
Habits: The duckbill platypus always lives near water – mostly in the rivers of eastern Australia and Tasmania. It nests in tunnels that it digs in the riverbanks or it lives in deep crevices and little caves in rocky banks. Its tunnels can run 50 feet long or more. The platypus is amphibious (lives both on land and in water) and dives and swims well. It is a loner except during breeding season and is territorial, defending its own stretch of river from intruders. The platypus uses its strong webbed front feet for both swimming and burrowing. When it walks on land it curls its feet under its body to protect them. Broad front feet make the platypus a powerful underwater swimmer, while smaller hind feet provide agility.
Food and Hunting: The platypus hunts in the water for prey such as insect larvae, water snails, and small crustaceans. Underwater it closes its eyes, ears, and nostrils and sweeps its brood bill from side to side to locate prey. The bill is soft and pliable, not hard like a duck's, and is highly sensitive. The platypus swims along using its front feet only. Most of its dives last between 30 seconds and a minute and a half. It sometimes remains underwater by wedging itself beneath a log or under a stone.
On the river bottom, the platypus fills pouches in its cheeks with food. When its cheek pouches are full, the platypus surfaces and discards any sand and stones it has picked up, then grinds the food between horny plates it has instead of teeth. The platypus’s beak is the ideal tool for feeding on the beds of slow rivers and streams. Broad front feet make the platypus a powerful swimmer, while smaller hind feet provide agility.
Breeding: The male and female platypus mate between August and October. The pair court by swimming around each other. Then the female platypus digs a long nesting tunnel in the riverbank with a chamber at its end. The nesting tunnel is longer than the platypus’s home tunnel – it may be as long as 65 feet. The female collects grass and leaves, grasps them under her tail, and carries them back to the tunnel to construct a nest. There she lays two white, soft-shelled eggs that she incubates by holding them snugly between her tail and belly.
Each egg is about the size of a marble. The hatching period is variable. After one to two weeks the eggs hatch and the young make their way through their mother's fur to suckle at her milk glands. The young stay in the burrow up to five months and continue to suckle after they have left the burrow. Boulder strewn streams offer the platypus deep crevices in which to nest, while their waters yield plentiful food.
Life in the water: The duckbill platypus
is well adapted to life on the river. It has brood, webbed feet, a streamlined
body, and slick, waterproof fur. It swims by rowing with its front legs, first
one and then the other. It closes its eyes, nostrils, and ears when underwater.
Key Facts: Sizes, Breeding, Lifestyle, Related Species:
Related Species: The duckbill platypus is the only species in the family Ornithorhynchidae. Its closest relatives, the two echidnas of Australia and New Guinea, are the only other members of the order Monotremata.
Distribution: Slow flowing streams and rivers; some lakes in eastern Australia And Tasmania
Conservation: The platypus is protected but rare, even in suitable sites. Its habitat is sensitive to pollution, disturbance, and development. Conservation of the platypus and its habitat is vital.
Special Adaptations of the Duckbill Platypus:
Bill: Sweeps the riverbed for prey
Did You Know:
The platypus is one of the most primitive
mammals in existence. The only other mammals that lay eggs are the platypus's
only relatives, the echidnas.
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