It’s deceiving looking at the Platypus exhibit along the Australian Walkabout Trail. One would assume that the massive tank with its rock ledges, hidey holes and waterfall makes up the male and female’s home, but sitting above the tank is a whole other world devoted to this remarkable Australian animal.
When Platypus keeper, Robert, was asked what makes this animal so special, he said: “Where do you start? They’re a mammal that lays eggs like a bird, venomous like a snake and hunts like a shark”.
The Platypus is one of three egg laying mammals, called a ‘monotremes’ and like most Australian animals they’re fascinating, but not cuddly.
The males have a pair of venomous spurs on their hind legs and while the venom won’t kill a human, the pain that would result is so excruciating that in most cases even morphine can’t give pain relief.
Sitting right above the tanks is a room lined with wooden tunnels and large boxes that form the hidden part of their home.
In the wild, a Platypus would have a burrow at least 10 meters long with several chambers attached to it. Each chamber has a different purpose – toilet, storage space, sleeping area, waste food area, place to dry off and so on.
Unlike humans, Platypus don’t do breakfast in bed; sleeping is strictly done in one area of their home and eating in another.
Taronga has replicated their wild tunnelling, by providing 20 meters of an enclosed wooden tunnels like a maze. Attached are nest boxes filled with seagrass and towels that the velvet soft mammals can sleep in, dry off and relax.
It’s normal Platypus behaviour to fill in the mouth of a burrow with dirt to protect themselves from predators. Each morning, when Robert opens the next boxes to check on them, he finds that male, ‘Abi’, has filled the burrow opening with a towel. It’s routine now that Rob moves the towel away and Abi sets off into the tunnel to start his day. The male is able to dig the towel out from the opening, but according to Rob prefers to let the keepers do it for him.
If the Platypus aren’t in the nest boxes, the keepers have to go looking for them and it’s a game of hide and seek to locate them in the tunnels.
“Sometimes you have tap the wooden passageways and then sit and wait really quietly”, said Robert.
Eventually you’ll hear them tottering along like a women in high heels, as their nails tap against the wooden boards.
It’s remarkable to watch the Platypus paddling through its aquatic home and if you can’t see them on exhibit, be sure to pop back later as keepers feed them four to five times daily, so there’s lots of opportunity to see them.