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Baby Platypus

Reading Time: 8 mins

If I told you to imagine a creature that looks like a furry duck, with the body of an otter and the tail of a beaver, you would probably think I'm pulling your leg. But guess what? Such a creature does exist, and it goes by the name Platypus! They also known as "puggles."


Size

Can you believe that a baby platypus, or a puggle, is no bigger than a lima bean when it first enters the world? Seriously, picture holding a lima bean in your hand - that's how tiny these critters are! But don't be fooled. These little fighters don't stay small for long. In a blink of an eye, or to be more precise, within a couple of months, they're almost half the size of their adult counterparts. Think of them as the superheroes of the animal kingdom - zero to hero in no time at all!


GPS Beaks

Now, let's gab about their beaks. You know, that distinctive duck-bill that makes them look like they've stepped right out of a quirky cartoon. These aren't just for show, oh no! Those beaks are a vital part of their survival kit. They're teeming with what we call electroreceptors, which help the platypus navigate their way underwater and find a tasty meal. It's like they're born with their own in-built sat nav! This makes the platypus an excellent hunter, even in the dark or muddy waters.



Not Ready to Swim

But here's the thing - although they're geared up for a semi-aquatic lifestyle, they don't jump straight into the water as soon as they're hatched. Yeah, I know, their webbed feet are a bit misleading. But there's a good reason for this. You see, their fur isn't fully waterproof at birth. It takes a bit of time for their coat to mature and develop its waterproofing superpower. It's almost as if they get their own natural wetsuit, trapping air to keep them warm and floaty in the water. At around four months old, they're ready to hit the waters and start fending for themselves.


Toothless from Birth

Get this straight – baby platypuses make their debut in the world without so much as a tooth in sight. Instead, their tiny mouths come equipped with small grinding plates, perfect for grinding up their grub. As they get older, they start to enjoy more varied fare, moving from their mother's milk to a more gourmet menu featuring small water-dwelling creatures, insects, and annelid worms. It's a veritable smorgasbord in their underwater world!



Their Unusual Venomous Feature

Here comes a fact that might send a shiver down your spine – baby platypuses come armed with venomous spurs! Just the male ones, mind you. These prickly features begin to appear in their first few months of life. While the venom can deal a pretty painful blow to us humans, it's not life-threatening. But it's safe to say that you wouldn't want to be on the receiving end of a baby platypus' kick!

Now, where does this venom come from? The answer lies in the male platypus's hind legs, or more precisely, the spurs on their hind legs. This spur is connected to a venom gland, and during the mating season, the production of venom increases. Platypus venom is a complex cocktail of proteins, some of which are not found in any other animal. Interestingly, some scientists are exploring the platypus venom for its potential medicinal uses, such as in the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

But why would a baby platypus need venom? The answer is not entirely clear. However, researchers hypothesize that it may not be for hunting or self-defense, as is common in venomous animals. Instead, the venom might serve a role in asserting dominance and competition among males during mating seasons. 


A Unique Approach to Feeding

The list of oddities doesn't stop there. The way baby platypuses eat is another feature that sets them apart from the mammal pack. They don't nurse from their mother's teats like most mammals. Instead, the mama platypus secretes milk through her skin, which pools up in the folds of her belly. The babies then lap it up straight from there. It's like a built-in buffet that's always open for the little ones. Now, how cool and unique is that?



What Do They Eat?

Let's chat about what's on a baby platypus's menu. Believe it or not, these babies are not picky eaters. Their diet mainly consists of small aquatic animals, including worms, insect larvae, freshwater shrimps, and even small fish if they can get their webbed feet on them. 


Interesting Hunting Method

Unlike some animals that hunt by sight or smell, the platypus has a unique hunting strategy that is nothing short of astonishing. When a platypus dives underwater in search of food, it closes its eyes, ears, and nose, leaving it essentially blind and deaf in the murky depths. But, here's the twist. The platypus uses electroreception, a unique sense that allows it to detect the electric fields produced by all living organisms. It's like their own built-in metal detector, but for food!


Their Habitats

The platypus only lives naturally in Australia and New Guinea. They are found in rivers, lakes and waterways in areas where there are freshwater sources. In these areas, they live by digging tunnels under shallow water. The platypus is especially common on the east coast of Australia and Tasmania Island.



Can They Be Kept as Pets?

Baby platypuses, like many other wild animals, are best admired from a distance. It's vital to understand that they are not pets but wild animals that play an essential role in their ecosystem. They require a specific diet, habitat, and care that humans, outside of trained wildlife specialists, cannot typically provide.


'Puggle' isn't just a Cute Name

If you think 'puggle' sounds endearing, wait till you find out what it means. It's an Australian term for a baby echidna. Given the similarities between echidnas and platypuses, people began using the term for baby platypuses too. However, there's no universally accepted term for a baby platypus, so feel free to stick with 'baby platypus' if you prefer.


Babies Hatch from Eggs

One of the first unique things you should know about baby platypuses is that they come into the world a little differently than most other mammals. They hatch from eggs! Yes, indeed, while the majority of mammals carry their young in the womb, the platypus mom lays eggs - placing them in a rare group of mammals known as monotremes. A bit like a cross between a bird and a mammal, if you ask me!

The gestation period for a platypus is about ten days, after which the mother lays one to three small, leathery eggs. These eggs are then incubated by the mother for a further ten days or so. She curls her body around them, using her warmth to encourage the development of the embryos within.



Mother Camouflages the Nest

Now let's take a peek into the home life of a baby platypus. It's not a simple case of 'a room of one's own'; oh no, their mom, the female platypus, gets all DIY and digs out a burrow in the riverbank. She then thoughtfully lines it with leaves, creating a snug and safe hideaway for her puggles. These clever moms even pile up soil to barricade the entrance, ensuring predators stay well away from their precious offspring. It's like the platypus version of a security system!


Lose Teeth

Now here's a fun fact to chew on: baby platypuses start off life with teeth. But as they grow, there's a twist. Instead of holding onto these baby teeth as most mammals do, platypuses say goodbye to their chompers before reaching adulthood. What replaces them? Curiously, they develop grinding plates, which they use to crush up their tasty invertebrate meals. So, if you're ever lucky enough to spot a platypus, don't worry, it can't bite! At least, not in the traditional sense. It's just one of the many ways these peculiar animals keep us guessing.


Baby Platypuses Glow under UV Light

Yes, you read that right. Platypuses, including the little ones, exhibit biofluorescence, causing them to glow a bluish-green hue under ultraviolet light. It's not just a cool party trick; this attribute might help them navigate and communicate in their dim, aquatic environments.



Born Blind and Hairless

Just like some other mammal species, baby platypuses enter the world in a vulnerable state. They are born blind and hairless, relying solely on their mother for nutrition and protection. Over time, they develop their sight and grow their unique waterproof fur.


Bi-parental DNA

In a peculiar twist of genetics, baby platypuses inherit DNA from both the mother and the father, but it’s not as straightforward as in most mammals. They have ten sex chromosomes, five from the mother and five from the father, a characteristic that makes them a great subject for genetic studies.




Sources:


Grant, T., & Fanning, D. (2007). The Platypus: A Unique Mammal. Sydney, Australia: UNSW Press.
Moyal, A. (2002). Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World. Baltimore, USA: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Hawkins, M., & Batt, T. (2009). Platypus Biology: Recent Advances and Reviews. Australian Journal of Zoology, 57(3), 150-164.
Whittington, C., & Grant, T. (1983). The Breeding Behavior of the Platypus (Ornithorhynchus Anatinus) in Captivity. International Zoo Yearbook, 23(1), 140-146.
Griffiths, M. (1978). The Biology of the Monotremes. New York, USA: Academic Press.
National Geographic. (2020). Platypus | National Geographic. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/p/platypus/ [Accessed 3 Jul. 2023].
Australian Museum. (2023). Platypus - Ornithorhynchus Anatinus. [online] Available at: https://australian.museum/learn/animals/mammals/platypus/ [Accessed 3 Jul. 2023].