10 Curious Facts About the Platypus

iStock
iStock

The platypus is arguably one of the most distinct animals on the planet. Here are a few things you might not have known about this quirky creature.

1. THEY DON'T HAVE A STOMACH.

Platypuses (platypodes and platypi are technically also correct, but much rarer in use) aren't the only animals to forgo an acid-producing part of the gut; spiny echidnas, and nearly a quarter of living fishes all have a gullet that connects directly to their intestines.

2. THEIR BILL GIVES THEM A "SIXTH SENSE."

Duck-billed platypus
iStock

A platypus’s bill is comprised of thousands of cells that give it a sort of sixth sense, allowing them to detect the electric fields generated by all living things. It’s so sensitive that the platypus can hunt with its eyes, ears, and nose all closed, relying entirely on the bill’s electrolocation.

3. THEY USED TO BE GIANT.

The ancient versions of a lot of modern animals, including penguins, were oversized monsters compared to the animals we know today. And platypuses are no different. In 2013, the discovery of a single tooth helped researchers identify a prehistoric platypus that was more than three feet long—double the size of the modern animal.

4. MONOTREME MEANS "SINGLE HOLE" IN GREEK.

Platypuses are one of only five species of extant monotremes—just them and four species of echidna—which split from the rest of the mammals 166 million years ago. These egg-laying mammals get their name from the hole that serves as both an anus and a urino-genital opening. In 2008, scientists deciphered the entire DNA of the duck-billed platypus and determined that, in accordance with the animal’s somewhat bizarre appearance, the platypus shared genes with reptiles, birds, and mammals.

5. THEY NURSE WITHOUT NIPPLES.

A platypus in the water
iStock

Although platypuses are born out of leathery eggs, the babies nurse from their mother. Female platypuses, however, don’t have nipples. Instead, their milk is released out of mammary gland ducts on their abdomen. The babies drink it up by sucking it out the folds of their mother's skin, or her fur.

6. THE MALES HAVE VENOMOUS SPURS.

Platypuses are one of just a few venomous mammals, which is one of their more reptilian characteristics. But unlike snakes, a platypus’s venom isn’t in his teeth. Instead, males have a hollow spur on each hind leg from which venom is dispensed—but only sometimes. Although the spur itself is always there, the venom gland to which it is connected is seasonally-activated and only produces venom during mating season, indicating that its use is for fending off competing males.

7. THEY HAVE RETRACTABLE WEBBING.

Although they can only stay submerged in water for a few minutes—they are mammals, after all—platypuses are much better suited to scooting around in water than they are on land. Much like an otter, they prune their thick coat to add air bubbles that act as insulation in the cool rivers where they hunt. Out on land, the platypus's short limbs mean it has to exert 30 percent more energy than a similarly sized land-based mammal just to move around . All that said, they do have one particular adaptation to ease their terrestrial travel: The webbing between their front claws—a boon when paddling through streams—retracts when the platypus ambles up the riverbank to expose sharp claws.

8. SCIENTISTS THOUGHT THE FIRST KNOWN PLATYPUS WAS A HOAX.

A photo of a platypus
iStock

When the first platypus specimen was sent back to England from Australia in the late 18th century, the scientists who examined it thought that someone was playing a trick on them. "It naturally excites the idea of some deceptive preparation by artificial means," zoologist George Shaw wrote in the first scientific description of the platypus, published in 1799. That said, one of the most remarkable and weird aspects of the platypus—its ability to lay eggs—wasn’t discovered for another 100 years.

9. THEY USE GRAVEL AS MAKESHIFT TEETH.

Platypuses don’t have teeth inside their bill, which makes it difficult to chew some of their favorite foods—but they have worked out a pretty ingenious solution. Along with worms, insects, shellfish, and whatever else these bottom-feeders scoop up to make a meal out of, the platypus also picks up gravel from the riverbed. The platypus packs the whole lot into pouches in his cheek to carry it up to the surface where he munches away, using the bits of gravel as makeshift teeth to break up some of the tougher food.

10. THEY USE THEIR TAILS FOR ALL SORTS OF THINGS.

Unlike beavers, which have very visually similar tails, platypuses don't use their tails to slap the water in warning, or even to move them through the water. Most of the time, the primary function of the platypus's tail is just to store up to nearly half of the animal's body fat in case of a food shortage. A female platypus also uses her tail to hold incubating eggs against her warm body.

12-Year-Old Is Making Bow Ties for Shelter Dogs In Order To Help Them Find Their Forever Homes

GlobalP/iStock via Getty Images
GlobalP/iStock via Getty Images

At 2 years old, New Jersey native Darius Brown was diagnosed with delays in comprehension, speech, and fine motor skills. At 12, he’s already founded a company, spoken to a national news corporation, and sewn hundreds of bow ties.

Brown's company, Beaux and Paws, donates the bow ties he creates to shelters to help animals get adopted, Today reports. The hope is that since dogs and cats sporting bow ties are so unbelievably adorable, people won’t be able to resist taking them home. It combines two of Darius’s passions, fashion and animals, and the idea was years in the making.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Beaux and Paws (@sirdariusbrown) on

When Brown's sister, Dazhai Brown-Shearz, was creating girls’ hair ribbons in cosmetology school, she and their mother Joy Brown decided to involve then-8-year-old Darius in the process, thinking it might help him exercise his fine motor skills and also have a positive impact on other tasks he struggled with, like tying his shoes.

It worked, and it also ignited an enthusiasm for style and design that extended beyond hair ribbons: Brown began sewing festive, vibrant bow ties for himself, which he told Today he wears “literally everywhere.” People started stopping Brown on the street, asking where they could purchase them. Then, when the pre-teen learned about how shelters couldn’t accommodate all the animals displaced by hurricanes Harvey and Irma, he had an idea for how to increase adoptions. Brown sent batches of bow ties to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and has since expanded his shipments to shelters all over the country.


View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Beaux and Paws (@sirdariusbrown) on

With more than 47,000 Instagram followers and a personal letter of commendation from former President Barack Obama, Beaux and Paws has grown exponentially since its inception, and Darius no longer needs to pay for supplies out of pocket; his GoFundMe campaign has raised more than $11,000. Brown is planning to put some of that money toward a summer trip that will take him to five different states, so that he can deliver his bow ties to shelters and assist with adoption events personally.

“We’re definitely very proud of Darius,” his mom told Today. “He’s overcome a lot and he’s still on his journey of overcoming a lot of things. He just keeps going for what he believes in.”

[h/t Today]

10 Quick Facts About Roadrunners

MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images
MikeLane45/iStock via Getty Images

Anyone who was raised on Looney Tunes cartoons might be surprised to find out that roadrunners aren’t long-necked or purple-crested—but roadrunners and coyotes do occasionally engage in chases. Here are a few fast facts about these unusual desert birds.

1. Roadrunners are members of the cuckoo family.

Found in deserts, grasslands, and forests, the greater roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus) cruises through the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. Its slightly smaller relative, the lesser roadrunner (Geococcyx velox), is generally found further south. Both birds belong to the cuckoo family, Cuculidae, which also includes anis and malkohas. All the members of the family have zygodactyl feet, with two forward-facing and two backward-facing toes. The arrangement gives roadrunners X-shaped footprints.

2. Roadrunners are fast—but coyotes are faster.

Greater roadrunner in a desert habitat
RONSAN4D/iStock via Getty Images

According to The Real Roadrunner by Martha Anne Maxon, scientists have clocked the speedy birds running at 15 to 20 miles per hour. Coyotes can run twice as fast as even the fastest roadrunners, but luckily for the birds, coyotes would just as well dine on small rodents, plants, and lizards instead of birds.

3. Flying isn’t the roadrunner’s forte.

Most of the time, roadrunners get around on foot, but taking flight is an option too. Roadrunners will sometimes glide down to Earth from tree branches or canyon rims, but they’re limited to short-distance powered flights because their wings are weak and their muscular legs weigh them down. To get airborne, they usually need a running start.

4. Lizards, seeds, and hummingbirds are on the roadrunner’s menu.

Opportunistic and omnivorous, roadrunners will eat seeds, cactus fruit, snails, snakes, lizards, insects, arachnids, and rodents. Smaller birds are fair game, too. Roadrunners will sometimes lurk around birdfeeders and, with a great leap, snatch songbirds in midair. Wildlife photographer Roy Dunn recently filmed a roadrunner capturing a hummingbird at his backyard feeder.

5. Roadrunners can out-maneuver striking rattlesnakes.

Roadrunners have no fear of venomous rattlesnakes—in fact, they find them delicious. But hunting one takes patience. When the two beasts face off, the roadrunner will fan its wings, which makes the bird look bigger and more threatening. As the snake strikes, the roadrunner nimbly leaps out of the way. This happens over and over until the bird, having learned the snake’s routine, grabs it by the back of the head in mid-strike. Then the roadrunner bashes the snake against the ground until it’s subdued or dead. Since they don’t have talons and their beaks aren’t equipped to rip through flesh, roadrunners swallow snakes whole.

6. Puebloan peoples believe roadrunners ward off dangerous spirits.

Roadrunners are viewed as protective entities among Puebloan peoples in the southwest U.S. Members of these tribes scratched X-shaped symbols designed to look like the birds’ tracks into the earth around dead bodies. The Xs were believed to secure them from evil spirits: malevolent beings would get confused because they couldn’t tell which way the roadrunner who left the “footprints” had been headed. Likewise, roadrunner feathers were placed over cradles to protect the babies inside.

7. Roadrunners do not say “beep! beep!”

Male roadrunners emit cooing noises while courting females and defending territories. Both sexes also use barks and growls to communicate—and for unknown reasons, roadrunners like to produce a long series of clicks by snapping their beaks. The clicks might be a message about one’s territory or a signal to broadcast one’s location to others.

8. Greater roadrunners team up to defend their territories.

Greater roadrunner running across a road
ca2hill/iStock via Getty Images

Considered monogamous, greater roadrunners sometimes pair for life. To help maintain the relationship, males periodically dance for their partners. They’ll also offer food and materials that can be used during nest construction. Both parents take turns incubating their eggs, which are laid in clutches of two to six, and they share chick-raising duties later on. Defending the home turf is another task they perform together. A single pair of roadrunners may occupy a huge territory encompassing up to 250 acres.

9. Roadrunners can conserve energy by lowering their body temperatures.

Roadrunners don’t migrate. On cold nights, the birds reduce their own body temperatures by as much as 15°F, which allows them to burn less energy. To help warm themselves back up, the birds like to sunbathe in the early morning [PDF]. They even raise their feathers to expose their skin directly to the sun’s warming rays.

10. The roadrunner is the state bird of New Mexico.

The greater roadrunner was formally chosen to be the Land of Enchantment’s state bird on March 16, 1949. Since then, the anti-littering organization Keep New Mexico Beautiful, Inc. has adopted an anthropomorphic roadrunner named Dusty as its mascot.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER