Sunday, August 8, 2010
Creature Feature: Platypus.
When I asked for a strange animal breed, at least 3 people immediately put 'platypus.' For each of those people who apparently had NO idea what a breed was, I will explain exactly what was wrong with their reasoning:
1. Platypuses (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) are not domesticated. I'm sure some weirdo has found a way to breed them in captivity, but that's it.
2. Even if they were domesticated, humans did not make them weird. They are weird all by themselves.
3. If, however, you ever see someone breeding a beaver or otter for a ducklike bill, lemme know. That would be a lot less weird than the platypus.
The platypus's weirdness is legendary. It has the bill of a duck, the body and tail of a beaver, and the webbed feet of an otter. It lays eggs like the echidna (the only other extant monotreme), can sense the electricity made my the muscle contractions of its prey, and the males of the species are venomous. It sounds like some sort of super-creature the Greeks made up.
(Even the Greeks could not stay mad at this.)
This creature's oddities are not limited to its humorous appearance. It also has ten sex chromosomes, meaning that male platypuses are XYXYXYXYXY. This is closer to the ZZ/ZW type that allows female lizards to give birth to male offspring than the XX/XY system in mammals. Both mammalian and reptilian genes contribute to the platypus's ability to lay leathery eggs.
Hell, the platypus is so weird that the first Europeans to encounter sketches and taxidermies of it thought that it was some sort of elaborate hoax. Then again, they thought that much of Australia's fauna was scientifically impossible. Two-headed deerlike creature that hops around? Preposterous!
Not pictured: This whole continent flipping 19th century Western science the bird.
This weirdness grants it a WHOLE lot of exposure in popular culture. The Pokemon Psyduck is a platypus (as Bogleech says, arguing against this is futile), Agent P from Phineas and Ferb, and an obscure Easter Platypus in one episode of Invader Zim. If something features Australia, it is just as likely to feature the platypus as the kangaroo.
A platypus giving shrimp makes a lot more sense than a rabbit giving eggs.
The platypus even has its own annoying song on YouTube:
(Complete with its own fan club, apparently.)