Monday, May 16, 2005

The First Platypus

"Even God has a sense of humor.
Just look at the Platypus." - Dogma, 1999

Initially dismissed as a fake or a hoax, the first platypus specimen ever sent to Europe from Australia is finally being shown to the public. Although the 200 year old specimen is too fragile and too scientifically valuable to be placed on public display - the Natural History Museum in London (which I visited on my recent trip) allowed it to be photographed for the first time in order to be featured in an Australian newspaper.

This particular specimen is the holotype or "type specimen" of the platypus - the first sample used to describe the species Ornithorhynchus anatinus. Because of this, the little guy is kept sealed away in humidity and temperature controlled storage. Oddly enough, the important specimen was misplaced for many years by the museum - uncovered years later without its accompanying skull of the animal.

All this is terribly interesting, but really I just wanted an excuse to talk about what a bizarre little creature the platypus is. As if it wasn't enough to look like the offspring of an amorous encounter between a beaver and a duck - the platypus is one of only 4 known species of monotremes - egg laying mammals with only one posterior opening for intestinal, urinary and genital tracks (known as a cloaca - my new favorite insult). The male platypus is also venomous - with ankle spurs capable of dealing a world of hurt on a victim.

In a steel cage death match for the weirdest known mammal, the platypus can pretty much take on all challengers- with the offensively long-fingered aye aye producing its only real competition.

Via BBC News

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