Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges
Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
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Platypus

Habitat:        Return to Platypus main page

  • It is found in Australian fresh water lakes and streams.
  • When out of the water the monotreme spends its time in burrows just above the water level, in river or stream banks or under a gathering of tree roots. Its burrow is distinguished by oval sections and it may also have two ends of entry or exit. These burrows can be up to thirty metres long, particularly when the female is nursing her young, an increase in tunnel length is a protection from predators and flooding.

Diet:      Return to Platypus main page

  • The platypus eats fresh water insects and their larvae, shrimps, yabbies, worms, tadpoles, small frogs and fish.
  • Smaller prey is sifted from the bottom silt or gravel by the bill which is pliable and very sensitive.
  • When the platypus is under water, it closes its eyes, ears and nostrils. Most information about its environment is obtained from electroreceptors in the skin of the bill. The receptors enable it to identify electrical fields created by the muscle movements of its prey.
  • Juveniles have teeth, but lose them as they mature into adults.
  • The tail of the platypus stores fat for periods of low food supply, or for when the female burrows to breed.

Social Behaviour:       Return to Platypus main page

  • Platypus’ are solitary animals, but do tend to share small bodies of water.
  • Males and females are differentiated by the males having a sharp hollow spur on their hind legs which join to a gland in the groin which produces a venom capable of causing great pain and incapacity in humans and can be lethal to small mammals.

Viewing Opportunities:       Return to Platypus main page

  • They can be viewed early morning and late afternoon at the Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodge platypus viewing area.
  • They can be viewed up stream from the falls besides the walking path at the Malanda Falls Environmental Park.
  • Other viewing areas include the bridge over Maroobi Creek, the Petersen Creek viewing area in Yungaburra and in front of the Atherton pump station on crossing road.

Additional Information: Platy10.jpg (4520 bytes)       Return to Platypus main page

  • Another common name for the platypus is the Duckbill Platypus.
  • It is readily distinguished from the water rat or other mammals that swim in Australian rivers and streams by its smooth swimming action, low silhouette, absence of visible ears and its rolling dive. A covering of long flattened guard hairs give it a sleek appearance.
  • Found mainly in Australia’s freshwater lakes and streams, the platypus is an egg-laying mammal (called a monotreme). There are only two monotremes – the platypus and the echidna.
  • When the dried skin of a platypus was sent to an English naturalist in 1799, he thought it was a hoax created by a clever taxidermist!
  • It has features of both mammals and reptiles. Like mammals, it is covered in fur, produces milk and has a four-chambered heart. Like reptiles, it lays eggs, produces vitamin C in its liver (not kidneys) and has similar kidney bones.
  • The platypus is not endangered, but deteriorating water quality in our waterways is adversely affecting its habitat. It is classified as common but vulnerable.
  • It is possible platypuses move out of freshwater occasionally as they have been seen in brackish and salt water too.
  • Platypuses once swam around with dinosaurs. In Argentina, fossil remains prove that they existed at the time when the South American and Australian land masses were joined in the super-continent Gondwana. A fossil jaw 110 million years old of a platypus prototype was found in New South Wales. However, this animal was almost twice as big and had teeth unlike the modern version. This was possibly the largest mammal in the world at that time.
  • The platypus is smaller than most people think – the average male is 50cm long and weighs 1.7kg, but females are smaller. The platypuses found in the Wet Tropics (the northern limit of the platypus) are noticeably smaller than those are elsewhere.
  • It is distributed in eastern Australia from the high altitudes of Tasmania and the Australian Alps to the tropical lowlands and plateaus of northern Queensland. Evidence shows it once occurred in the Murray River and its tributaries in South Australia, but it is now extinct in this state except for an introduced population on Kangaroo Island.
  • About half of the day is spent by the platypus feeding in the water, but it is only able to spend up to about 10 minutes underwater at a time. It generally comes up for a breath after about two minutes though. The rest of the day is spent on land and in its burrow in a creek or riverbank.
  • Platypus blood is rich in oxygen-carrying haemoglobin and red blood cells, so it is able to reduce its need for oxygen by reducing its heart rate from more than 200 beats per minute to less than ten.
  • The platypus constructs its burrow preferably in easily worked loamy soils as opposed to rocky or sandy soils. Males and females both build the living burrows, but only the female builds the nesting burrow. This is generally longer than the living burrow (1-3m long) as it may be up to 20m long. Entrances to burrows are a little above the water level. If below, the water level changes and the platypus has to build an alternative entrance.
  • They are able to tunnel at the rate of one metre in two hours. A single platypus may use a dozen living (also known as residential) burrows.
  • The platypus is a carnivore, feeding on aquatic invertebrates such as insects and their larvae, worms, tadpoles, small frogs, fish, freshwater shrimps, and crayfish. It usually feeds at night.
  • When it dives, it swims to the bottom, rubbing its bill through sand and mud to detect food which is stored in cheek pouches to allow it to look for more. The food is then chewed and swallowed once the platypus surfaces to breathe. It rests with its 4 legs extended on the surface while it ingests the food. Young platypuses have proper teeth that fall out soon after they first enter the burrow. Adult platypuses grind up the food between hard pads inside the bill.
  • The platypus needs to eat 15-30 percent of its body weight per day.
  • Its body temperature is normally around 32 degrees Celsius. This can be compared to that of most mammals being 37-38 degrees. The difference is possibly an energy saving adaptation allowing the platypus to reduce the rate at which heat is lost in water. It can remain in near-freezing water for 12 hours or more.
  • The platypus has two layers of fur – a woolly undercoat and a long shiny guard fur on top. These serve to trap air to keep the animal dry and warm even when in the water for long periods.
  • A very noticeable feature of the platypus is its bill. It is soft and rubbery unlike the hard bill of a duck. When underwater, the platypus relies on its sensitive bill to find food (as it closes its eyes, ears and nostrils). Electrical currents can be detected by electro-receptors in the bill, and they help to locate prey as it can detect the fields made by the muscle movements of its fleeing prey. They also have pressure sensors that may help it hunt and navigate beneath the water. On the surface of the water, the platypus uses its acute hearing and sight to avoid potential predators.
  • It uses its back feet for treading water and helping its tail in steering and its front feet for swimming by propelling it through the water. The front feet are webbed with skin extending past the claws to form large paddles for swimming. This extra webbing folds under the front feet whilst on land so its sharp claws can be used for digging. The skin on the back feet does not extend past the claws. The platypus is quite a good climber too.
  • Fat stored in the tail can be used when food is limited or the animal does not feed (eg when the female retires to her burrow to breed. The tail itself is used as a stabiliser when swimming, and being flat, it enables the platypus to dive quickly. It is also used in burrowing.
  • On hind ankles on males there are large, sharp spurs, 1.5cm long in adults. These are mainly used during mating (as weapons between competing males), but can also be used for defence and are connected to poison glands by ducts. An injury from a spur can be very painful. The only other mammal with a comparable spur is the echidna. Although the male echidna has a similar spur on the ankle of its hind-leg, it lacks the functional venom gland of the platypus.
  • Recent research shows that the venom could actually be useful as a new type of painkiller as it acts on pain receptor cells, which is a property unique among venoms but shared with the active ingredient of chillies.
  • Breeding season varies depending on location. Mating takes place (in the water) around August in Queensland, September in New South Wales and Victoria, and October in Tasmania. After mating, the female consumes large quantities of food and builds a nesting burrow. She retreats into the burrow, blocking it for protection against both floodwaters and predators. This also helps keep the nesting chamber (at the end of the burrow) at a constant temperature and humidity for egg incubation.
  • Two (or sometimes three) eggs are laid in a nest of leaves and grasses. They are white, soft and leathery and, once laid, they are covered in a sticky substance. When they are held against the mother’s body, they are able to stick together.
  • The female leaves the burrow for short periods about one week after she has laid the eggs to swim and groom herself. About two weeks after they are laid, she resumes feeding.
  • Approximately 10 days after the egg laying, the young hatch. They are fed on milk produced not from nipples, but from two patches of skin (body pores) halfway along the mother’s belly. Until suckling is completed, the platypus continues to feed on short expeditions, unblocking and reblocking the burrow each time.
  • The mother gradually spends more time away from the young. When they are 3-4 months old (about three-quarter grown) they are ready to venture out for their first swim. At about one year they are fully-grown.
  • Living in captivity, individuals have been recorded to live for up to 17 years, and in the wild, up to at least 13 years.
  • An important element in its behaviour is the grooming of its fur. Sometimes this occurs in the water, but more often it occurs on a particular log or rock.
  • The best times to see a platypus are at dawn and dusk. They are shy and easily disturbed, so one must be quiet and patient.
  • In certain places and at certain times of the year, the platypus may be predominantly diurnal or nocturnal. Factors such as locality, human activity, day-length, air and water temperatures, and abundances of food influence their activity pattern.
  • Humans are a threat to the platypus, as well as its natural enemies like snakes, water rats, goannas, and introduced foxes. Platypuses were shot and trapped extensively in the early 1900s for their fur until legislation protected them.
  • They are also threatened by pollution of waterways, erosion of stream banks, the building of dams, and stream improvement works. Natural vegetation along waterways should be maintained to protect the banks and provide platypus habitat.
  • Some unintentional problems humans cause towards platypuses:-
  • drowning if entangled in fishing line, nets and litter
  • becoming caught on fish hooks
  • damaging their bills on glass, tin cans and other sharp objects
  • losing the waterproof qualities of their fur due to oils and other chemicals
  • getting pulled into pumps with intake pipes below water level
  • having burrows destroyed from erosion, degradation of riverside vegetation and concrete channelisation
  • losing food if insecticides or other chemicals kill their invertebrate prey
  • getting attacked by cats and dogs.

Additional Information: Platypus of the Lamington National Park.
Return to Platypus main page


Chambers Wildlife Rainforest Lodges
Lake Eacham, Atherton Tablelands
Tropical North Queensland, Australia.
PH & Fax: 07 4095 3754 International: 61 7 4095 3754

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