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8 Videos of Platypodes in the Wild

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When it comes to people, the platypus is pretty shy, and human encounters in the wild are rare. Here are a few people who got lucky enough to see these extraordinary creatures in the great outdoors, captured it on video, and put it on the Internet for the rest of us to enjoy.

1. Hobart, Tasmania

Max Moller is proof that sometimes, patience is rewarded. The Tasmanian filmmaker had spent seven years trying to make a movie about platypodes and had only 30 seconds of footage to show for it when, one day, his assistant saw something moving through the grass. "Thinking it was some huge lizard, we couldn't believe it when we saw this platypus walking between one creek to another," Moller told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. "Filming platypus is one of the hardest tasks ever but sometimes the luck is on your side and, with the amazing job from my assistant, we have managed to film this animal for around five minutes." Much of the footage captured of platypodes shows them in water, so this video is even more extraordinary; scientists from the Natural History Museum in London plan to use it to study the animal's movements.

2. Blue Mountains, NSW, Australia

A lucky hiker captured this footage of a friendly baby male platypus in 2007. Good thing this little boy was friendly: The male platypus is venomous; it uses spikes on its hind feet to deliver the toxin. It's not fatal to humans, but the pain has been described as excruciating.

3. Mole Creek, Tasmania

Like something out of The Secret, this YouTuber was walking with a friend "through this wonderful creeky bushland" in Tasmania and "mentioned how cool it would be to see a platypus (as it seemed to be the ideal habitat for them)." And then, a platypus appeared!

Just how did this creature come by its interesting name? George Shaw, the first person to describe the creature in his 1799 book Naturalist's Miscellany, named it Platypus anatinus, from Greek and Latin words meaning "flat-footed" and "duck-like." But the story doesn't end there: The following year, scientist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach suggested that the platypus be called Ornithorhynchus paradoxus, meaning "bird-like snout" and "puzzling." Then, as it turned out, Platypus had already been used to describe a group of beetles, so a new name was needed for Australia's strangest creature, which was created by combining Shaw's and Blumenbach's scientific names to get Ornithorhynchus anatinus. Platypus became the animal's common name.

4. Carnarvon Gorge, Australia

Ken Murray got footage of both platypus and wild pigs in this video, uploaded earlier this year. "Enjoy these playful Platypus in Carnarvon Gorge, Australia," he writes on the YouTube page. "They are very hard to film, because they are so shy and wary of any different movement or shapes and things. These wild pigs are also very wary of any strangers in their territory, as you will see!"

5. Mt. Field National Park, Tasmania

Evan Wels "spotted this playful platypus looking for food at dusk in July 2009 below Russell Falls" and shot footage of it using a Nikon D9. Platypodes use their bills, which are equipped with mechanoreceptors, to find food. They have no teeth, so they scoop up larvae, insects, worms, and shellfish off the bottom along with some gravel and mud, which they store in their cheek pouches and mash on the surface. Another fun fact: Platypodes don't have stomachs.

6. Kiewa River, NE Victoria, Australia

"Who said platypus are shy?" This YouTuber asked. "This little baby defied the rules and put on a great performance!" Fun fact: When these monotremes' eggs hatch, the female provides them with milk—but not through nipples. Instead, she secretes the milk through her areolae in two places, and the babies lap it up directly from her skin.

7. Tasmania

Jason Maraschiello uploaded this video of a platypus hanging out in shallow water in June 2013. The best time to spot platypodes is early in the morning or late in the day.

8. Queensland, Australia

In the 19th century, the platypus was described as keeping its body "flat as a plank" in the water, and from this footage of a platypus swimming in Johnston River, uploaded just two months ago, you can see that description is accurate.

BONUS: Hand-feeding a Platypus

And I'd be remiss if I didn't leave you with this adorable video of some lucky person hand feeding and playing with a platypus at the Victoria, Australia-based Healesville Sanctuary.

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How Bats Protect Rare Books at This Portuguese Library
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Visit the Joanina Library at the University of Coimbra in Portugal at night and you might think the building has a bat problem. It's true that common pipistrelle bats live there, occupying the space behind the bookshelves by day and swooping beneath the arched ceilings and in and out of windows once the sun goes down, but they're not a problem. As Smithsonian reports, the bats play a vital role in preserving the institution's manuscripts, so librarians are in no hurry to get rid of them.

The bats that live in the library don't damage the books and, because they're nocturnal, they usually don't bother the human guests. The much bigger danger to the collection is the insect population. Many bug species are known to gnaw on paper, which could be disastrous for the library's rare items that date from before the 19th century. The bats act as a natural form of pest control: At night, they feast on the insects that would otherwise feast on library books.

The Joanina Library is famous for being one of the most architecturally stunning libraries on earth. It was constructed before 1725, but when exactly the bats arrived is unknown. Librarians can say for sure they've been flapping around the halls since at least the 1800s.

Though bats have no reason to go after the materials, there is one threat they pose to the interior: falling feces. Librarians protect against this by covering their 18th-century tables with fabric made from animal skin at night and cleaning the floors of guano every morning.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Honey Bees Can Understand the Concept of Zero
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The concept of zero—less than one, nothing, nada—is deceptively complex. The first placeholder zero dates back to around 300 BCE, and the notion didn’t make its way to Western Europe until the 12th century. It takes children until preschool to wrap their brains around the concept. But scientists in Australia recently discovered a new animal capable of understanding zero: the honey bee. According to Vox, a new study finds that the insects can be taught the concept of nothing.

A few other animals can understand zero, according to current research. Dolphins, parrots, and monkeys can all understand the difference between something and nothing, but honey bees are the first insects proven to be able to do it.

The new study, published in the journal Science, finds that honey bees can rank quantities based on “greater than” and “less than,” and can understand that nothing is less than one.

Left: A photo of a bee choosing between images with black dots on them. Right: an illustration of a bee choosing the image with fewer dots
© Scarlett Howard & Aurore Avarguès-Weber

The researchers trained bees to identify images in the lab that showed the fewest number of elements (in this case, dots). If they chose the image with the fewest circles from a set, they received sweetened water, whereas if they chose another image, they received bitter quinine.

Once the insects got that concept down, the researchers introduced another challenge: The bees had to choose between a blank image and one with dots on it. More than 60 percent of the time, the insects were successfully able to extrapolate that if they needed to choose the fewest dots between an image with a few dots and an image with no dots at all, no dots was the correct answer. They could grasp the concept that nothing can still be a numerical quantity.

It’s not entirely surprising that bees are capable of such feats of intelligence. We already know that they can count, teach each other skills, communicate via the “waggle dance,” and think abstractly. This is just more evidence that bees are strikingly intelligent creatures, despite the fact that their insect brains look nothing like our own.

Considering how far apart bees and primates are on the evolutionary tree, and how different their brains are from ours—they have fewer than 1 million neurons, while we have about 86 billion—this finding raises a lot of new questions about the neural basis of understanding numbers, and will no doubt lead to further research on how the brain processes concepts like zero.

[h/t Vox]

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