The three living species of monotreme have always been regarded as zoological enigmas, so much so that when the first specimen of a duck-billed platypus (a single skin) was shipped back to Europe from Australia at the close of the eighteenth century, it was widely believed to be a hoax, and an unconvincing one at that. It would not have been the first time a ship arrived from the East Indies with a cleverly faked "marvel." Previous hoaxes had included supposed mermaids (half fish, half monkey) and wildly exotic birds of paradise, so the scientific community at the time can be forgiven for being skeptical. However, the duck-billed platypus is one of those cases where fact is at least as strange as fiction. It is an unlikely looking amalgam of parts taken from other animals, including a stout, cylindrical body covered in fur, huge webbed feet, a flat paddle-shaped tail, and a unique rubbery bill. The English naturalist George Shaw examined the skin, and was initially dubious as to the validity of the specimen. After examining it carefully and failing to find any evidence of forgery, he formally described it in 1799. He named it Platypus anantinus, which literally translated means "flat-footed duck-like." The name was changed to Ornithorhynchus anatinus when it later transpired that the genus name, Platypus, had already been used to describe a species of flat-footed beetle. The platypus was not the first known monotreme. The short-beaked echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus) had been described seven years earlier, also by Shaw, but had caused much less of a stir, presumably because its superficial similarity to the European hedgehog made it easier to accept. It was not until 1802 that an entire preserved specimen of the platypus arrived in Europe, providing unequivocal proof that it was a genuine animal. But this was just the first in a long series of zoological conundrums presented by this highly distinctive group. Closer examination of platypuses and echidnas has showed that these are far from regular mammals. The suggestion that they reproduced by laying eggs instead of giving birth to live young left most Victorian zoologists incredulous, and it was almost 100 years before this could be proved. These and many other disconcerting new discoveries have earned the monotremes an enigmatic reputation among mammals, and they are still far from being fully understood.

Pregnancy And Childbirth

Pregnancy And Childbirth

If Pregnancy Is Something That Frightens You, It's Time To Convert Your Fear Into Joy. Ready To Give Birth To A Child? Is The New Status Hitting Your State Of Mind? Are You Still Scared To Undergo All The Pain That Your Best Friend Underwent Just A Few Days Back? Not Convinced With The Answers Given By The Experts?

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment