Sunday, April 27, 2014
Bonus Letter: P is for Platypus
When the first Platypus, stuffed and mounted, was presented to the British Royal Society, the esteemed colleagues assumed it had to be a fake, and attempted to remove the duckbill with scissors. They imagined it was some species of beaver with a duckbill stitched on. They can be forgiven, I think, for this error; the platypus is such an extraordinary creature on so many counts, it's hard to believe such a thing can be real.
The platypus' bill is by no means its most remarkable feature, but it's a place to start. Like ducks and hadrosaurs, the platybus uses its bill to dig for food on river bottoms, but the platypus' bill is equipped with electroreceptors. When it dives, it closes its eyes, nose, and ears, and locates prey, by picking up electrical currents generated by muscular contractions. Oh, my lord, how cool is that?
The platypus also has the distinction of being the only venomous mammal. The male has a spur on its hind foot that excretes a venom fatal to smaller animals and excruciating to humans.
Humans like to imagine they are at the top of the evolutionary ladder, and that platypi and such-like are primitve and less-evolved. But indeed, the platypus is perfectly evolved to suit its environment. Can you say as much, oh, sunscreen-wearing biped? The platypus is an amazing and beautiful creature and deserves our respect.
Oh, yeah, and it lays eggs.