Platypus researcher and ecologist Josh Griffiths cradles a female platypus he just captured. Researchers are lobbying Australia’s national and state governments to grant the unique species increased protections.
Looking at the animal skin that had been shipped to him in England from Australia, George Shaw, the keeper of the natural history collection at the British Museum at the turn of the 19th century, was dumbfounded. It was as though someone had taken the webbed feet and bill of a duck and jammed them on to the torso of a fuzzy four-legged mammal. Though he eventually accepted the platypus as authentic, at first he wondered whether someone had stitched various creatures together as a joke.
Two centuries later, the platypus continues to astound scientists. Along with the four species of echidnas, they’re the only mammals that lay eggs. They’re also one of only a few venomous mammals: Male platypuses have poisonous spurs that can cause as much pain as hundreds of hornet stings. (Recently their venom was also found to contain a hormone that might help treat diabetes.)
Moreover, platypuses don’t have stomachs—their gullets lead directly to their intestines—and they have 10 sex chromosomes to our measly two. As if this wasn’t enough, scientists discovered this year that platypus...