What is a Platypus?

Written by: Cameron Ward

Published: 11/08/2019

Reading time: 3 mins

These incredibly unique Aussie creatures are unlike anything else you’ve ever seen!!

It’s the creature so weird that scientists didn’t believe it was real! With the body and fur of an otter, the tail of a beaver, and the webbed feet and bill of a duck, it’s no wonder scientists were sceptical when they first saw a platypus! These funky Aussie animals are one of only two egg-laying mammals in the world and have earnt a reputation for their interesting appearance.

  • What’s in a name?

    The name platypus is almost as baffling as their appearance, so how did this word come about? Well, technically, scientifically, it isn’t anymore… The public just really liked it! Originally the animals scientific name was Platypus anatinus, meaning flat-footed and birdlike, however, it was realised that a beetle had already been assigned the genus ‘platypus.’ Naturally, there couldn’t be two animals named platypus, so the animal was renamed as Ornithorhynchus anatinus. However, Ornithorhynchus is nowhere near as easy to say, so the name platypus stuck and is still used today!

  • Appearance

    The platypus is a mishmash of other animals, but each of its features serves a purpose. Its thick fur is waterproof and protects the animal during extreme winters. They have beaver-like tails used to store fat to help them dive easier. Additionally, their webbed feet help to propel them through the water, allowing them to swim with ease. Their bill is one of their most fascinating features, helping them navigate through the water and successfully hunt. To many peoples surprise platypus are not very big, many are smaller than the average domestic cat!

  • Habitat

    Platypus live in the freshwater rivers of eastern Australia and Tasmania. They are most commonly found near riverbanks with overhanging vegetation, roots, and logs that make it easier for the animal to construct burrows. Typically, platypus prefer relatively shallow waters and play just under the water surface. Females typically will make two burrows, one for herself and a male, and a second for having new babies.

  • Diet

    Platypus do not have teeth, instead, they crush their food in the grinding plates in their bill. They are carnivorous and enjoy eating worms, shrimp, larvae, crustaceans, and dragonflies. Platypus do not have good eyesight underwater and must close their eyes to hunt on the river floor. They can detect electric currents emitted by their preys’ small movements and use their bill to scoop animals up.

Fun Facts

This cool creature’s looks seem to defy nature, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Here’s some more crazy facts about platypus

  • There is no plural for platypus in English. There is also no official name to refer to a baby platypus.
  • Male platypus have a small venomous barb on the back of their hind legs. They use it to defend themselves when attacked
  • When disturbed platypus make a low grumbling sound

Platypus are truly wild animals! Keep your eye out for them in Flinders Range National Park, you might be lucky enough to see one paddling just under the waters surface!

Related article: Was Kangaroo Island connected to Australia?

Cameron Ward
Cameron Ward
Managing Director at Sightseeing Tours Australia

Cameron Ward turned his travel passion into a thriving Australian tourism business. Before he co-founded his own business, Sightseeing Tours Australia, he was enjoying being a Melbourne tour guide. Even now, Cameron delights in helping visitors from all around the world get the most out of their incredible Australian trip. You’ll see Cameron leading tours or writing about his favourite Australian places where he shares his local insights.