An animal emblem
The Platypus is the animal emblem of Taronga Conservation Society Australia and the state of NSW. It has swum the fresh waters of eastern Australia and Tasmania for thousands of years, but remains a secretive and elusive creature. Wildlife Queensland research suggests that in Queensland there is not one continuous population, but at least three discontinuous populations.
The amphibious Platypus is a monotreme and one of the most unusual creatures on Earth. Monotremes are a unique group of mammals that lay soft-shelled eggs. The only other monotremes are the echidnas.
Monotremes are thought to be the most primitive of all mammals. A 122 million-year old fossil from southeastern Australia, shows that in the middle of the dinosaur era, platypuses already existed, and they are specialized mammals, with duckbills and complex adaptations to water life.
Webbed feet are the ideal adaptation for swimming in the water. When the platypus is moving on land it folds up the webbing under its toes and uses its claws for walking and burrowing.
Platypuses use electroreceptors on their bill to detect electrical signals given off by prey moving through the water. This echo-location allows them to ‘see’ while foraging for food underwater.
A poison chalice
Platypuses are among the few venomous mammals in the world. Males have a spur on the back of their hind feet that is connected to a venom-secreting gland. More venom is secreted during mating season, leading researchers to think that the spurs and venom help males compete for mates.
The predominant threat to Platypus on the mainland is reduction in stream and river flows due to extraction of water for agricultural, domestic and industrial supplies and dams. Deteriorating water quality is also adversely affecting its habitat, particularly from household chemicals, pesticides and fertilisers that enter a waterway through storm run-off after being poured onto the ground or into a gutter.
Accidental drowning in nets and traps set for fish and crustaceans has the potential to impact Platypus distribution and abundance in all parts of its range, especially in small streams where populations may be critically small.
Throwing out the balance
Bank erosion and clearing has a huge impact on the habitat of the Platypus, as they need substantial vegetation to support the delicate balance of their habitats. The trees provide shade, oxygenate the water, provide food for the aquatic invertebrates that the platypus eat as well as burrowing areas around tree roots. Stabilisation and revegetation of banks will increase the habitat of the Platypus.
Come and meet us
Platypus can be seen at Taronga Zoo Sydney in the Platypus House and in the Blue Mountains Bush Walk.
The Platypus plays an important role in the food web and ecology of Australian freshwater ecosystems. Taronga has made a conservation commitment to the Platypus and we are working hard to protect them in the wild. A joint research project with University partners will assess impacts of fragmentation and threatening processes on platypus; Taronga also supports partnerships aiming to deliver significant areas of habitat restoration. In partnership with the Australian Platypus Conservancy, Taronga supports a research program investigating and promoting alternatives to reduce the capture of Platypus through yabby trapping - a favourite Australian pastime. Continuing to develop our platypus breeding program to better understand this incredibly secretive and elusive species is a challenge we eagerly accept.