The platypus is a unique animal that confused the early Europeans who came to Australia. When a stuffed platypus was sent to England, scientists there thought a trick had been played on them and that parts of several animals had been put together to become a fake animal.  

A platypus has webbed feet and a bill like a duck's although it is leathery - in fact, they are often referred to as 'duck-billed platypus'.  It has a tail that looks a bit like a beaver's, it lays eggs that look like reptile eggs and has fur and feeds its young on milk like a mammal.  

Platypus habitat ©Getty Images

Platypus habitat ©Getty Images

It was many years before scientists could actually classify the platypus. It is a mammal, but in a special group together with the echidna: it's a monotreme, or egg-laying mammal.

Habitat and Distribution (where it is found)

Platypuses live beside freshwater rivers, creeks and lakes in eastern and south- eastern Australia, stretching from Queensland down to Victoria and Tasmania.  

They dig long burrows in the bank, with the entrance to the burrows above the water level and well hidden.

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

Appearance and behaviours

Platypuses have webbed feet and a broad, flat tail about 12 centimetres long that helps them swim.  When they swim, platypuses close their ears and eyes, and stay underwater for about two minutes at a time.  They have thick waterproof fur that helps them keep warm, in layers so that their skin doesn't get wet.

Feeding

Platypuses are most often out looking for food before dawn and for a few hours before sunset.  However, they are not completely nocturnal and are active for periods during the day. They feed on creatures that live in rivers, creeks and lakes. They feel for food with their leathery bill, which has special nerves in it that senses the movement of prey. The platypus scoops up worms, shrimp, insect larvae and other small water animals. The food is stored in cheek pouches until the platypus swims to the surface to eat it. When they eat food, platypuses crush it with tough, horny pads on their upper and lower jaws. They don't have teeth.

©Getty Images

©Getty Images

The body

A platypus' body can be up to 45 centimetres long. They can weigh up to 2.3 kilograms. Males are larger then females. Male platypuses also have a sharp, hollow claw-like spur behind the ankles on its hind legs. The spurs are connected to venom (poison) glands. Male platypuses may use them to protect themselves from predators and to fight other male platypuses during mating season. The venom is not fatal to humans, although it causes swelling and great pain.

The platypus uses its webbed feet for swimming.  On land, the webs turn back to uncover claws on the feet which it uses to dig a long burrow in the banks of rivers and creeks.  Some burrows can be as long 25 metres. Each platypus has its own burrow. The opening of the burrow is small, so that the water is squeezed out of the platypus' fur as it enters the burrow.

Platypus close eyes and nostrils underwater ©Getty Images

Platypus close eyes and nostrils underwater ©Getty Images

Life cycle

Females build a nest of damp grass and leaves in a chamber at the end of a long nesting burrow when it is time to lay eggs. The dampness helps keep the temperature of the chamber right for the eggs and young. She carries plants from the water's edge by curling her tail around the bundles.  

After mating with a male platypus, (between June and October) a female seals herself into the nesting chamber by blocking the entrance with soil and lays one or two eggs.  She lies curled up with the eggs between her body and tail to protect them until they hatch. Tiny, naked  babies hatch from the eggs after about ten days . They drink milk that oozes from their mother's body, sucking it from her fur. Their sucking is rather like the action of a vacuum cleaner because a female monotreme does not have nipples like other mammals do.  The young stay with their mother for up to four months, after which time they can swim on their own and search for food. 

The platypus is on one side of the Australian 20c coin. ©Getty Images

The platypus is on one side of the Australian 20c coin. ©Getty Images

Conservation Status and Threats

Platypuses are listed as  being of  'Least Concern'. However, it is very hard to know the numbers of these shy, hard to spot creatures.

Read more here.

http://www.animalfactguide.com/animal-facts/platypus/

Read more here and choose videos to watch, including tiny, hairless, blind babies inside the nest.