Number 8 — The plural of “platypus” is “platypodes”
This strange animal that appears to be a hybrid between a beaver, mole, and duck, is known as the platypus. Its name originating from the Greek words for “flat” (platús) and “foot” (poús).
The platypus, with the taxonomic name Ornithorhynchus anatinus, is native to Australia and Tanzania. It is the only living member of the Ornithorhynchidae family and is hands down one of the strangest animals on the planet.
Although you have probably heard of the platypus, these 10 strange facts are sure to surprise you.
1. It looks like a beaver but lays eggs like a duck
The platypus is known as a Monotreme, which is a subset of mammals that lays eggs instead of giving birth to live young. There is only one other living member of the Monotremata family, and that’s the echidna (see photo below).
The word monotreme also has greek origins, translating to “single hole”. This describes the single hole out of which the platypus (and echidna) excretes urine and feces. The same hole also serves a reproductive purpose.
This hole is known as cloaca and is common in birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but is very rare in mammals.
2. The mother platypus has no nipples
All mammals produce milk to feed their young, and the platypus is no exception. However, the females don’t have nipples. Instead, the milk is secreted from glands near the mother’s armpits and the babies will lick the milk directly off the mother’s fur.
Dolphins also have no apparent nipples at first glance. But, upon closer inspection, scientists discovered that they have inverted nipples hidden behind a slit that the calf can stimulate to release milk.
3. They have no teeth and no stomach
Similar to birds, a platypus does not have any teeth inside its bill. However, its favorite food, crustaceans, require a bit of chewing. So, the platypus scoops up bits of dirt and gravel with the crustaceans to help break them apart.
If you assumed that the swallowed food would go into the platypus’ stomach you would be wrong. The platypus has no stomach (and neither does his friend, the echidna).
Scientists discovered that the platypus lost the gene for a stomach along with other vertebrates. The gene responsible seems to be associated with pepsin and gastrin, which are digestive enzymes of the stomach.
Instead, when the platypus eats, the food moves directly from the esophagus to the intestines to be digested.
4. They use electroreception like sharks
When a platypus swims underwater its eyes and ears are closed. This would make it very difficult to navigate the water and find prey if it wasn’t for electroreception.
The platypus can sense electrical impulses which allow them to hunt, even in total darkness. They can even hear their prey’s heartbeat. Platypodes and echidnas are the only mammals to use electroreception. Electroreception is far more common in sharks, as well as cockroaches and bees.
5. The males are venomous
The platypus is incredibly cute, but get too close and you will be in for a painful surprise.
The male platypus has venomous spurs on its hind limbs that are lethal to small animals. Although it cannot kill a human, the venom causes excruciating pain that can be felt for several days or even weeks.
Hospitals would be of little help if you were stung since the pain appears to be unresponsive to morphine (one of the strongest pain medications available).
6. The males also have a two-headed penis
Yes, you read that right. A male platypus has a two-headed penis. Scientists are still determining the exact purpose and evolutionary origins of its penis, but it appears to reflect the female’s anatomy.
The female platypus has two ovaries (on the left and right), but only the left ovary appears to be egg-producing. The left head of the male’s penis is longer which might be an evolutionary advantage to reach the fertile ovary of the female.
7. They glow blue-green under UV light
The platypus’ fur is biofluorescent, meaning that after exposure to the sun or another source of light, the fur will reemit the light (in this case as blue-green wavelengths).
So far, the only other mammals that are known to do this are opossums and flying squirrels. Scientists are not sure what benefit this phenomenon brings, but they theorize that it could help camouflage against predators or visibility to other nocturnal animals (slightly opposing theories).
8. The plural of “Platypus” is “Platypodes”
There has been some debate as to the plural form of “platypus”. Since the name is derived from the Greek language, the plural should be “platypodes”. However, since this type of pluralization is not common, the Oxford dictionary indicates that “platypuses” is also acceptable.
9. They use their tails like camel humps
The platypus has a thick waterproof fur coat that keeps it warm in chilly waters. But to get through long cold spells, it has the added benefit of fat storage in its tail which can be used for energy.
Camels use a similar strategy to get through food scarcity periods in the desert but, the fat is stored in their humps instead of their tails.
10. They have 10 sex chromosomes
If you remember a bit of high school biology, you probably recall that humans have two sex chromosomes, “X” and “Y”, which determine the biological sex of the person. Two “X”s (XX) means a human is biologically female and XY means the human is biologically males.
Well, a platypus has 10 sex chromosomes. A male will have 5 sets of XY chromosomes whereas a female will have five sets of XX chromosomes. At first glance, there might be many more sexes. For example, would 3 pairs of XX and 2 pairs of XY lead to a male or a female? However, all five sets seem to be linked during the meiosis process (which generates sperm) and only two sexes emerge through procreation.
The entire platypus genome has scientists baffled. Although some of the chromosomes seem to be related to mammals, others are more similar to birds.
Overall, the platypus is one of those animals that leaves us all scratching our heads. It appears to have many features of non-mammalian animals like birds and reptiles, which makes us wonder if it can truly be considered a mammal.
Although humans love to group the world’s creatures into distinct categories, sometimes nature throws a curveball, reminding us that we are not all-knowing and there is still much mystery left in this world.