The Platypus

In 1799, British scientist George Shaw thought he was being tricked when he saw which animal for the first time?

And the answer: the platypus.

Photo credit: ISTOCK. 

With its duck bill, webbed feet, brown fur, and beaver-like tail, the platypus is a creature that has perplexed scientists for centuries. In fact, in the late 18th century, when a specimen was sent from Australia back to an English lab, the scientists there thought it was a hoax.

For some 90 years after the discovery of this perplexing animal, scientists continued to express wariness for the platypus' classification. At the time of its discovery, the Western world had started in on an exciting age of scientific growth and development. Biologists in Europe were close to developing a classification system for animals, and theories were brewing on how those animals came to be. The platypus, with its features that challenged every biological category to which it bore some resemblance, came as a shock. Was it a mammal, reptile, mammal-bird or "other?"

In the late 1800s, Scottish zoologist William Hay Caldwell finally managed to dissect fresh platypus eggs and confirmed once and for all that the animal did in fact lay them, and that it also nursed its young. The platypus was classified as a mammal—one of five that are known to lay eggs. Though these discoveries released the scientific community from its heated debate, the platypus continues to perplex animal-lovers and scientists alike.

Did you know?

Male platypuses are venomous! Their venomous spurs are just one of their reptilian characteristics, but unlike snakes, a platypus’s venom isn’t in its teeth. The spur on the creature's leg is always there, but the venom gland to which it is connected is seasonally-activated and only produces venom during mating season.



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