|The Australian Wonder Book of Knowledge - [Home]|
Full grown, a platypus measures about 22 inches in length, and weighs just over 4 lbs. The average length, from tip of bill to end of tail, of male specimens collected by Dr. George Bennett, was 20 inches, the females being slightly smaller. Fur color varies, especially in the males, which are some-times almost black. The fur darkens with age. Besides being smaller, the female has fur of a reddish hue and, except when very young, is easily distinguished from the male. Differences between the sexes become more apparent as the animals grow older and bigger.
The "make-up" of the platypus is peculiar in many ways. The front portion of the upper mandible is soft, while the covering of the- horny structure is very soft and of a rubbery texture. Though toothless when full grown, in the immature stage the platypus has tiny teeth at the back portion of the jaws. Soon becoming worn down, they are shed, and horny ridges are developed along the edges of the bill. These enable the animal to grind food into pulp before it is swallowed.
Its webbed feet are furnished with claws, but only the front ones are used in burrowing. When actually digging, the webbing is tucked under the palm of the foot so that the claws may remain free and unimpeded. The claws of the hind-feet serve as a comb in fur grooming. The platypus, being a particularly clean little creature, spends much time over its toilet. Before retiring to its sleeping quarters, a "duck-bill" in a platypussary will comb most of the water from its fur. A ball-and-socket-like hip-joint enables it to reach any portion of the body with either hind foot; thus the middle of the back is groomed as easily as is the breast.
The male platypus has two sharp spurs inside the heels of the hind feet. They are hollow, not unlike the fangs of some snakes, and are connected to poison glands. It is difficult to judge the actual potency of platypus venom. There are cases on record where the effects have been trifling; while in other cases great pain and alarming swellings have resulted. The varying quantity of poison injected is probably the reason for such divergent symptoms.
Above: Bird's eye view of the platypussary used in the first successful bid to transport a live platypus overseas to New York.
|Wonder Book of Knowledge|