Others may be smaller or bigger, but are all part of a complex chain of creatures we may eventually only know by pictures, because in reality, they may all be gone. Some are seemingly tiny insignificant bugs, some so huge you can’t miss them. But in a world where there is a food chain, they form part of it, and once all these tiny insignificant (or magnificent) creatures are gone, maybe someone further up the chain goes hungry and starts eating something else, endangering yet another species. But as with most endangered creatures, they are mostly under threat from land clearing, dams, development and climate change.

Duck-billed platypuses are small and shy. They have a flattened head and body to help them glide through the water, with dark brown fur on top and tan underneath, both of which are thick and water-repellent to keep them warm and dry even after hours of swimming. The platypus is a remarkable mammal found only in Australia. They are an egg laying aquatic creature with a duck’s bill, a beavers tail, and otter-like feet, and if its appearance alone somehow fails to impress, the male of the species is also one of the world's few venomous mammals – they have spurs measuring 1.2cm on each of their hind legs, and each spur is connected to a crural gland — or modified sweat gland— which creates a powerful venom, which scientists believe are used when competing with rivals during breeding season.

Usually active at dawn and dusk, these solitary creatures spent their time just sleeping or diving for food with eyes and ears closed. They have very sharp vision over long distances, but because its eyes are towards the top of its head it cannot see objects directly under its nose. They are bottom feeders - they scoop up insects and larvae, shellfish, and worms in their bill along with bits of gravel from the bottom, which is then stored in their cheek pouches. They have no teeth but use the gravel collected during feeding, along with tough plates in their bills, to grind up their food for consumption at the surface.


According to new research published in the scientific journal Mammalia, platypus fur glows bluish-green under ultraviolet light, because of something called biofluorescence. This is different from bioluminescence and means that when they absorb short wavelengths of light — from the sun or another light source — they can re-emit them as longer wavelengths of light, but apparently scientists are not yet sure why. The duck-billed platypus's head and body grow to about 38 cm and its tail grows to about 13cm long, but their most remarkable feature is their amazing snout, which is actually quite soft and covered with thousands of receptors which can detect electrical currents in the water to help them find prey.

While the female has two ovaries, only the left one works, the right being rudimentary, as in birds. When her babies hatch, they aren’t fed milk from teats, which the mother doesn’t have, but from dermal pores. The babies are actually born with teeth but lose them.

Credits: envato elements; Author: FiledIMAGE;

Platypuses are long-lived, surviving up to 12 years in the wild, and more in captivity. Scientists think these fascinating creatures are the earliest relatives of modern mammals, and recent studies show that they first evolved more than 112 million years ago, well before the extinction of the dinosaurs.

According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, without urgent action to address the extinction crisis, it won't be a case of if the platypus becomes extinct, but when. Although there are as many as 300,000 adult individuals remaining in the wild, the platypus is becoming increasingly threatened throughout its natural range. Their numbers are in decline, and these unique creatures are now at risk of extinction - their habitat over the past 30 years has shrunk by at least 22%, or about 200,000 kms, an area almost three times the size of Tasmania. Already endangered in South Australia and recently listed as vulnerable in Victoria, it is believed the platypus should be listed as threatened nationally.


Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man. 

Marilyn Sheridan