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It was not until almost a century after the first specimen reached England that the platypus was generally accepted as a genuine product of Nature; a paradoxical animal such as might be expected to exist in a land of queer creatures and strange plants.
Fortunately, we know the early history of the "duck-bill," or "water-mole," as it was called in 1797 by the first Europeans to observe it. From the banks of a lake near the Hawkesbury River , "an amphibious animal of the mole kind" had been frequently noticed rising to the surface of the water "blowing like a turtle." One or two were captured, and their dried skins sent to England . These were followed by several specimens preserved in spirits, which Everard Home, a noted anatomist, dissected. Home's scientific description of Ornithorhynchus appeared in print; but just before this, another scientist named George Shaw had described the wonder animal, with a quaint illustration, in the Naturalist's Miscellany. He called it Platypus anatinus. In 1799, a German anatomist named the "duck-bill " Ornithorhynchus paradoxus.
The name platypus was out of order; as a scientific title, having already been given to a genus of beetles; but it was retained as a popular name for the amazing little egg-laying mammal.
Early settlers learned from the natives that the "water-mole" laid eggs and had nesting burrows, but many years passed before authentic eggs of the mallagongan aboriginal name for the Ornithorhynchus — were obtained. In 1864, it was reported from . Wood's Point, Victoria , that a captive platypus had laid two eggs. But some naturalists remained unconvinced that egg-laying mammals really existed in Australia , or in any other part of the world. Controversy ceased only when eggs of both platypus and echidna were obtained in Queensland by an English zoologist.
It was in Queensland , too, in the 'eighties, that relics of an ancestor of Ornithorhynchus were found. These fossil bones do not indicate a giant form. but an animal smaller than our platypus, whose only known ancestor flourished .about five million years ago.
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