Duckbill Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)


Class: Mammalia
Order: Monotremata
Family:    Ornithorhynchidae
Size:    Length: 12 to 19 inches (30 to 48 cm)
Weight: 1 to 5.3 pounds (0.45 to 2.4 kg)
Diet: Shellfish, worms, plants and aquatic crustaceans and insect larvae
Distribution: Australia
Young:  2 to 4, once per year
Animal Predators:  Hawks, eagles, owls, crocodiles, foxes, dogs and cats
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: No special terms
Lifespan: Up to 12 years in the wild and 17 in captivity



·       Platypus means “broad foot” in Greek.

·       Hunting platypuses is forbidden by Australian law.

·       Despite its small eyes and lack of external ears, the platypus has excellent sight and hearing.

·       The platypus has a voracious appetite and can eat up to its own body weight in one night.

·       Unlike most other mammals, female platypuses lay eggs rather than giving birth to their young.



Their bill resembles that of a duck, but it is actually a long, soft snout covered with leathery skin. They have thick, brown fur, with lighter undersides and underfur that is woolly, like that of a sea otter. Their fur grows straight out of the skin (at right angles to the surface, not laid backward) so that forward and backward movement in the water or burrow is not hindered. Males have a hollow, horny spur on the inside of both hind legs from which a gland ejects venom as a method of defence. The venom is extremely painful to humans and can kill small mammals. Both the fore and hind feet of platypuses are webbed, but they only use their forefeet to pull themselves through the water. The hind feet are used for steering rather than propulsion. Platypuses have a streamlined body and males are larger than females. 



Duckbill platypuses live in Australian freshwater systems, including those of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania. They prefer lakes and rivers surrounded by forested areas. They have also been introduced to Kangaroo Island. Platypuses are territorial and will defend their section of a river from intruders.  


Feeding Habits

They do most of their hunting after dusk and before dawn, and rest in their burrow during the daylight hours, sometimes coming out to the opening to bask in the sunshine. They use their snout to dig under the surface of the water bottom and under rocks to look for shellfish, worms and aquatic insect larvae. They also eat aquatic crustaceans and plants. Adults have no teeth, but instead grind their food with ever-growing, horny plates that emerge from their gums. 



Mating season takes place between July and October and is initiated by the female, who employs a variety of methods to let the male know she is interested. She either swims up to him and rests her muzzle on his, rubs her side against his, dives under his body or circles him. He may respond by clamping onto her tail with his jaws. After mating, the female builds a tunnel with a nest made of reeds and soft grass, where she lays two to four tiny, soft, leathery white eggs, keeping them warm by holding them against her belly with her tail. The male is not allowed to enter the burrow and provides no parental care. The eggs are incubated for six to 10 days, and the baby platypuses are born without fur. Platypus nursing is rather unique: the mother has no teats, instead, her milk is excreted through her skin glands and the babies lick the milk from her fur. They drink milk for four to five months, staying in the safety of the burrow while their mother goes out to dive for food. Platypuses reach full maturity at the age of two. 



Duckbill platypuses are shy, solitary animals that live in and near lakes and rivers, building burrows in the banks. These semi-aquatic animals are strong swimmers and divers, spending up to 12 hours per day in the water. Platypuses are buoyant and usually stay underwater for less than two minutes, but can remain underwater longer by wedging themselves under a rock or stone to search for food. 



Duckbill platypuses are protected by laws throughout Australia, including the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974.



Duckbill Platypus Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US

Vaughan, T., Ryan, J. and Czaplewski, N. (2000). Mammalogy, Fourth Edition. Orlando: Sanders College Publishing