|We're all Homo here|
|A Gradual Science|
|Plain Monkey Business|
The platypus[note 1] (or Ornithorhynchus anatinus, also known as "a semi-aquatic egg-laying mammal of action)[note 2] is an evolutionary screw-up and laughingstock of the animal kingdom. It is an incredibly dangerous semi-aquatic mammal indigenous to Australia. (wait, isn't that par for the course?) The ridiculous appearance of this egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some — especially those only presented with platypus skins or preserved specimens — considering it an elaborate hoax.
The bill is an example of convergent evolution: if you're sucking bugs out of water-bottom mud, you'll want something about that shape, whether you're a duck or a platypus. Form follows function. Ironically, creationists often cite the platypus as "proof" against evolution, claiming that a creature this strange cannot possibly be a product of natural selection. Contrary to popular belief, the platypus is not a "living fossil" that represents a link between birds and mammals (that link never existed in the first place) as it does not retain the features of the primitive mammals it evolved from.
Though docile unless you try to skin it and sell its fur, the male platypus packs one more surprise: it has a spur on the hindfoot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans.
The platypus is one of only four extant egg-laying mammals, all in the order of monotremes (Monotremata). The other three species are all echidnas in the genera Tachyglossus and Zaglossus (family Tachyglossidae); the extant platypus is in the family Ornithorhynchidae. The platypus sports numerous avian and reptilian features (who also lay eggs) not present in any other modern mammal. Thus, it might be (in appearance, though certainly not in phylogeny) the crocoduck that Kirk Cameron has told us we should expect to see.
- A Handbook of New Guinea's Marsupials and Monotremes by James Menzies (2011). University of Papua New Guinea Press, 2nd ed. ISBN 9980945125.