Males 400 – 630mm, 800 – 3000g; Females 370 – 550mm, 600 – 1700g. Males and females are very similar in appearance: streamline body shape with short limbs; prominent duck-like bill; thick, brown waterproof fur covering the body; large webbing on the fore feet which folds back to expose strong claws for digging; hind feet are partially webbed and also clawed; rudder-like tail, predominantly consisting of fatty tissue; males are equipped with a venomous spur on each hind leg.
Habitat and Distribution
Eastern Australia: Cooktown, Queensland to Tasmania. Inhabit freshwater rivers, creeks and lakes.
While still considered a common species and listed as “least concern” on the IUCN Red List, there are insufficient data available describing long-term platypus population trends.
Human impact continues to be to the detriment of this species eg. Introduction of feral predators such as the red fox (Vulpes vulpes); destruction of riparian habitat; increased silt levels in waterways which affects platypus food supply – caused by inappropriate land management; water pollution and inappropriate fishing practices.
The diet of a wild platypus consists of benthic macroinvertebrates, especially insect larvae.
Captive platypuses enjoy live yabbies (Cherax destructor), fly pupae, earthworms, bloodworms, mealworms and mudeye.
The Platypus is an exceptional diver. The eyes are kept tightly shut during a dive and electroreceptors on the surface of the bill are utilized to locate live food.
Breeding and Lifecycle
The platypus can live up to 21 years in the wild, although is more likely to average 10 – 15 years.
Breeding season is considered to be July to October on mainland Australia (can be later in Tasmania). The Platypus is typically solitary outside this period.
During the breeding season, a male will “patrol” a territory and will attempt to mate with more than one female. Following courtship and mating, the male plays no further role in the nesting process and is not involved with raising the young.
The female platypus digs an elaborate, multi-chambered nesting burrow into the river bank and lines the main nesting chamber with grasses and other plant material. The Platypus is a Monotreme (an egg-laying mammal) and can lay 1 – 3 eggs. During the egg incubation period, the female infrequently leaves the burrow to feed herself.
Following hatching, the young remain in the burrow for the next four months. They feed only on the mother’s milk, which is secreted through two glandular milk patches on her abdominal area. The young suckle the secreted milk directly from the fur. By approximately four months of age, the young have attained adult body size and will leave the nesting burrow for the first time. They are considered to be independent at this stage and juveniles will eventually disperse from their natal area.
References: Grant, T (2007). Platypus (Fourth Edition). CSIRO PUBLISHING, Collingwood, Australia.
The Australian Platypus Conservancy: http://www.platypus.asn.au/
The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: http://www.iucnredlist.org/
The Zoo and Aquarium Association acknowledges Zoos Victoria for providing the factsheet information above.