The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Platypus Nest

National Museum of Australia - Joy of Museums - Platypus

The platypus is an egg-laying mammal that only lives in eastern Australia and Tasmania. Together with the certain species of echidna, it is one of the five surviving species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth, like other mammals.

The animal is the sole living representative of its family, Ornithorhynchidae and genus, Ornithorhynchus, though a number of related species have been found in the fossil record.

National Museum of Australia - Joy of Museums - Platypus Nest Platypus Nest (with Wax replica nestlings), collected 1920s from Namoi River

When the platypus was first encountered by European naturalists, they were divided over whether the female laid eggs. This was not confirmed until 1884, when an English naturalist lead an extensive search assisted by a team of 150 Aborigines, managed to discover a few Platypus eggs.

A female platypus lays usually two eggs, approximately 25 millimetres long, that stick to the fur on her belly. The babies break their way out with an egg tooth, and then attach themselves to the mother’s belly-hairs. The newly hatched are vulnerable, blind and hairless and are fed by the mother’s milk. The young Platypus  are suckled for four months. A platypus is born with teeth, but these drop out at a very early age, leaving the horny plates it uses to grind food.

Wild Platypus 4

The unusual appearance of this duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled naturalists. It is one of the few species of venomous mammals. The male platypus has a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans. The unique features of the platypus make it an important subject in the study of evolutionary biology.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                 Platypus Nest
  • Dates:               20th Century
  • Provenience:  Platypus Nest (with Wax replica nestlings) 1920s from Namoi River
  • Museum:         National Museum of Australia

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“The more you know, the less you need.” -Australian Aboriginal saying

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Photo Credit: By GordonMakryllos (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Klaus (Flickr: Wild Platypus 4) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons