It was the 19th century, and members of the scientific world refused to believe the words of zoologist George Shaw when he described the platypus as an animal in his new book, The Naturalist’s Miscellany.
In fact, even Shaw, after all his thorough examination and failure to find any evidence of deception or trickery, was still feeling unsure about the bizarre animal. He had to admit that the specimen he received from Australia with a duck’s bill and an otter’s pelt “naturally excites the idea of some deceptive preparation by artificial means.”
And so, for almost 100 years, the uproar and debates over the platypus raged on. A situation that was understandable: Hadn’t they in the scientific world been duped several times? Such was the case with the Charlton Brimstone butterfly. Or P.T. Barnum’s infamous Feejee Mermaid. Or, not to be easily forgotten, since it was a highly reputable professor who was fooled, Dr. Johann Bartholomew Adam Beringer, with the so-called “Lying Stones.”
And when the platypus was finally acknowledged as an animal — with the classification of a mammal after biologist George Bennett’s 1833 discovery of how a platypus nurses its young — the controversy shifted to: Does it really lay eggs? Almost none wanted to believe the words of the aborigines of Australia that the platypus is an egg-laying mammal that nurses its young. And so, thousands of platypuses were slaughtered, their organs preserved in alcohol before shipping the specimens to Britain to convince the experts. Nevertheless, many conservative scientists maintained that no mammal ever lays an egg.
Finally, in 1883, Scottish zoologist William Hay Caldwell was sent to Australia with financial support from the University of Cambridge, the Royal Society, and the British Government to find out the truth about the platypus’ ability to lay eggs. The following year, Caldwell was able to capture a female platypus which had an egg in a burrow and another one inside her body.
The discovery led to the classification of platypuses as Monotremes under Mammals. And only recently, Caldwell’s collection of platypuses, marsupials, and echidna at various life stages appeared on headlines around the world. The collections have been kept at the Cambridge University’s Museum of Zoology but were not catalogued. The precious specimens were discovered by Jack Ashby, Assistant Director at the museum.
“It’s one thing to read the 19th century announcements that platypuses and echidnas actually lay eggs. But to have the physical specimens here, tying us back to that discovery almost 150 years ago, is pretty amazing,” said Ashby.
And yet, the platypus’s ability to lay eggs is just one of the many amazing things about it. It was also later discovered that the male platypus is venomous. This animal has a double layer of fur for waterproofing and insulation; it exudes a biofluorescent green-blue glow when placed under UV light. And since it doesn’t have teeth, a platypus tends to scoop up a bit of gravel and mud to help in chewing its food.
Speaking of feeding, do you know that a platypus is better than a shark when it comes to sensing prey? Yes, both animal species use electronic impulses to detect food and pinpoint its location. But the platypus’s bill, which it uses in finding food instead of its other senses, can detect very subtle AC and DC electrical fields when underwater. On land, the glands on the platypus’s bill that act as electroreceptors have the double function of keeping its bill from drying. Hence, the platypus can survive both on land and in water, unlike sharks and other marine species with electroreceptivity.
Watch this video of this bizarre but cute mammal!Whizzco