Many people who live in Australia have never seen a platypus in the wild. They can be seen on the 20-cent coin, postage stamps of the past, and even as a mascot at national events.
But in the wild, the platypus eludes most people.
They are a unique egg-laying mammal with a large duck bill, fur and feet like otters, and a beaver-like paddle tail.
Only found in Australia, their unusual features baffled early naturalists, who didn’t know know how to characterize this “amphibious mole-like” animal (David Collins).
Other interesting features of the platypus include their ability to:
- locate prey by detecting electric fields;
- deliver venom powerful enough to kill smaller animals; and
- use the front feet for propulsion, and the back feet and tail for steering.
Read more about the platypus here.
Our first trip Down Under, we spent an entire day at the Black Swamp searching for the platypus, to no avail.
Eleven years later, on our second trip, we made the playtpus a budgetary priority and hired a guide.
The guide drove us to a small river behind a housing development, where he had seen Ornithorhynchus anatinus before. It was 6 a.m., their hunting time.
When he told us what we had to do to see the “platy,” it was clear this wildlife adventure would be entirely without dignity.
Platypus are extremely shy and sensitive, so we could not utter a sound; and we could move only when the platypus was submerged.
If the platypus detected any movement, he would disappear into the riverbank mud.
Therefore, we had to freeze in place when the platypus lifted his head out of the water; and move only when he submerged. “Just do as I do” said the guide.
Excellent swimmers, they paddle quickly along in the water hunting for crayfish and shrimp, their heads frenetically darting back and forth. After about a minute, they come up for air.
Within minutes we spotted one. Below the water’s surface was the big bill and his 20-inch long (51 cm) body.
We tromped along the shore following him.
Then as soon as the animal lifted his head, came up for air…we stopped. Froze. When he’d go back under water, we’d run again.
Due to the rain, the grass was slippery and the trees limbs were hanging low. So the three of us were ducking and sliding around, getting muddier by the moment. We each had on a backpack that was soaked and awkwardly swaying as we ran.
It would have helped to laugh at this silly escapade, but we couldn’t make a sound.
This stop-and-go game lasted for nearly one glorious hour, until it had become more light out. By then the platypus was done hunting, and people were heading for work and walking their dogs.
An elusive Australian mammal that lays eggs and looks like a duck, beaver, and otter…sure, I would make a fool of myself any day to see such a creature.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander
Author’s Note: Jet’s mystery novel Wicked Walkabout is set in Australia. Purchase the e-book here for more Australian wildlife fun.