The fascinating bird-beaked, egg-laying mammal the duck-billed platypus (Ornitorhynchus anatinus) could experience trouble as climate change causes things to hot up in its aquatic habitat. The platypus has an extraordinary fur coat providing powerful insulation - thermal imaging has shown that they only lose heat through their eyes, which are closed when underwater, enabling them to hunt for food for up to 10 hours a day in waters around zero degrees Centigrade. (Instead of vision, the platypus hunts using electroperception, sensing its prey’s electric field using receptors in its beak, as we have seen was recently discovered in Guiana dolphins - see previous post.) Should temperatures start to rise, the platypus has few ways to cool down other than resting in its burrow, but by staying there, it would face starvation. An increase in water temperatures could therefore drive the platypus from some areas of its current range and reduce the number of places that remain cool enough to support populations, potentially threatening their survival as a species. Monitoring changes in the population will prove a difficult task, as platypuses are a shy and generally nocturnal species that are not easy to capture.
Ref: Walker (2011) Iconic platypus feels the heat. BBC Wonder Monkeys blog [link]
I think I forgot to mention this, but the Finnish word for platypus is “vesinokkaeläin”. Water+beak+animal. It’s interesting how it’s picked. It swims in the water; it has a beak; it is an animal. So if the English word means “flat-footed”, the Finnish word has also omitted the paddle tail and some of the general weirdness. They were focused on the weird beak.
The Healesville Sanctuary in Victoria, Australia is the new home for an orphaned baby Platypus, called a “puggle.” Named “Yamacoona” (Wurundjeri for “water spirit”), this tiny baby weighed only 335 grams when she arrived at the Sanctuary in a critical condition four weeks ago. She was miraculously found floating in saltwater (Platypuses live in freshwater) about three miles from the mouth of the Mitchell River. The nearest known sighting of any Platypus is 31 miles (50 kilometers) upstream from the mouth of the Mitchell River.
Healesville Sanctuary vets believe it is possible that the Platypus’ mother may have died during recent flooding so the puggle was washed out to the island into salt water. Yamacoona is about three months of age, and wouldn’t have been weaned for another 6-8 weeks.