Platypus: A Fucking Love Story

 

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I absolutely LOVE nature. But not really in the sense of loving hiking, scenic views, or spending time in… the woods. No, when I say I love nature, I mean the animal kingdom and the ecosystems that support it have always been things I can marvel at indefinitely.

Countless times I’ve found myself deep in wikipedia holes, devouring unimportant minutiae on bizarre creatures like the Olm(pictured below), because damn it, I need to know why they don’t have eyes. I need to know how does not having eyes affect their eating habits? How does it effect their navigation? How does effect their sex life? These are the hard-hitting questions that keep me up at night, reading zoological journals, blurbs, and watching documentary clips, until I have the answers I need.

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They saw the things man was not meant to see and bear this curse as proof.

It’s given me a taste for the odd and bizarre, which luckily enough is a hunger that’s easily fed, as everything becomes odd and bizarre when you place it under a powerful enough microscope. Everything. At least in regards to our planet’s fauna. The most mundane creatures hide galaxies of fascinating information that we would never assume; the strange and fantastical even more so.

So today, this in mind, we’re gonna talk about my all time favorite critter: The Duck-Billed Platypus, because we don’t talk about these little weirdos enough. Yeah, TV shows like to poke the occasional jab at how odd they look(a beaver with a beak? HILARIOUS), they’ve been seen as an example of randomness, and we’ve all heard the joke about them being proof of “god’s sense of humor”, but let’s be real, these things are crazy.

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Look me in my eyes motherfucker, we about to chat.

And not just regular crazy. Not, “Oh, look at Uncle Tim, he wore a hawaiin shirt to christmas dinner, what a nut”, crazy. These things are “show up at your cousin’s wedding, high on blow, naked, with a dogsled team, trying to bring you back to their time machine to stop the JFK assassination” bonkers. There is not one thing about a platypus that makes a lick of god damn sense in the context of any other creature on earth; no other animal does anything it does anywhere close to how this little bad ass goes about doing it, so much so you have to wonder if these guys are being different just for the sake of fucking with zoologists.

They’re Monotremes.

Platypus’s belong to an order of Australia-exclusive-mammals known as Monotremes; a word that, in an absolutely hilarious twist of events, means “One Hole”, referring to the fact the animals in this group handle all of their dirty business(sex, feces, the whole shebang), through a single opening called a cloaca, a trait normally reserved for birds, reptiles, and sharks. It also means they lay eggs, something a fair few people are probably pretty familiar with, as it’s absolutely unheard of that a mammal would not give birth to live young; even marsupials, Australia’s other off-their-rocker mammals at least have the decency to abide the laws of fur-and-milk. But not the Monotremes. Not the Platypus. THEY make the rules, you square.

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Pictured: you.

It also means that they are wired completely differently from every other mammal on earth. Their physiology is ass-backwards if you compare it to any other animal in its class. In the center of your brain you have a large clump of nerves and white matter called the Corpus Callosum, its what allows the two hemispheres of your brain to communicate; its been found to be larger in musicians, who are frequently combining the creativity of composing, with the organizational structure of song, the absence of it can result in loss of higher brain activity and seizures, it even effects our coordination. It is key in dictating how not just us humans, but your pet dog, cat, even the mice in your walls, go about living their lives.

The Platypus said “fuck your silly-ass-brain-defining-nerve-structure. I’ll figure my own shit out.” And it did.

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“Don’t want it, don’t need it.”

Monotremes run all the information that needs to be relayed between brain hemisphere through something called the Anterior commissure, a chunk of nerves a tenth the size of the Corpus Callosum, because efficiency is for the weak. Humans have one too, but we’re still a little foggy on what exactly its purpose is in us. Our beaked little buddy is using something we don’t even understand, to pull double duty as one of the most important features of a mammal brain. They’re on the edge, man.

There’s a slew of other bizarre things things that set Monotremes apart from other mammals; there’s only two of them(the Platypus and the almost-as-weird Echidna), they don’t have teeth, there is next to no fossil record for them, and they don’t have nipples. As a rule of thumb, when your talking about mammals, your talking about nips; lions have’em, elephants have’em, weasels have’em, even your Great Aunt Millie has’em (you just don’t like to think about’em).

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“You’re God Damn Right I do.”

The Platypus has modified sweat-glands that handle its milk production; they’re making milk through literal blood, sweat, and tears, like the task it is. Why have specific organs for producing milk? Why have a milk delivery system? Let the baby try and find the nourishment smeared across your body, if the baby wants milk, it can work for it. Self-sufficiency is a lesson the Platypus teaches early.

 

They’re a Swiss Army Knife of Party Tricks.

Look, I haven’t brought a Platypus to a party before(not for a lack of trying), but I bet they crush it. Your off in a corner trying to woo a girl over with some Bud Light and a card trick, when BOOM, in comes the platypus to show off, I dunno; ITS VENOMOUS FUCKING SPINES, or maybe that fact that it can read electricity like you read a Dr.Seuess book, or how about that its this cute:

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“I could cute the pants off a nun, I’m so gosh darn cuddly.”

Seriously though, these animals are so jam packed with extras and bonus features that their basically an early 2000’s DVD copy of The Santa Clause. As mentioned above, they’re one of about six truly venomous mammals, with males possessing a set of venomous spines that can inject a poison which, while not deadly, can certainly take you out of commission for a good little while. The kicker? Literally a kicker. These spines take the form of cowboy-style spurs on their hind legs, which they can kick with so hard that there are recorded cases of them embedding themselves so deeply into people’s flesh that the assistance of a  second person was required to intervene and remove the platypus, where it was dangling by its heels, like god damn infant Achilles. So yeah, they’re also masters of toxic karate.

They’re additionally one of the only mammals known to have electrolocation; they can read and understand electric currents in order to build an image of the world around them. When they’re swimming, this is the only way they’re getting around; because they’ve closed off their eyes, nose, and ears. They interpret this information in a way similar to how we experience touch, they can literally feel the world around them, demonstrating an understanding of things reserved for Kungfu Masters.

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To be the Platypus, you must think, smell, see, listen, feel like the Platypus.

I’m sure you thinking though, “There can’t possibly be electricity everywhere, right?” Well you’re right and wrong.Yes, their environment isn’t producing a charge; rocks, dirt, water, these things are notoriously neutral. The currents their sensing are the muscle contractions of other nearby animals, specifically those of prey. Platypuses are out there navigating and chasing down food, a bat shit crazy sense of electric-telekinesis allowing them to use their target’s very motion against them, their own fear weaponized.

The craziest things about their electrolocation, is that there’s proof they might not even need it. Platypuses have a set of Double Cones in their eyes, which signals that they have extremely acute vision, or at least evolved from something that did. While we’re still a bit unsure of how double cones effect vision; the standing theories are that they can see in non-color scales(infrared anyone?), detect motion much faster than we do, observe luminosity better than we do, or even see colors we can’t even dream of. I guess it’s a back-up, in case their magic-electro-senses don’t help them murder the things they need to.

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This is the face of death.

And they need to do a fair amount of murder. A Platypus has to consume twenty percent of its body weight in food everyday, so most of their waking life is spent hunting down prey, with the remaining time spent, I dunnno, scheming?  These little guys don’t even have teeth, so if your one of the unlucky crustaceans that they’re searching for, you won’t meet a quick or decisive end. Instead, you’ll be slowly mashed to death by a set of bony plates hidden inside those adorable little beaks, OR, be carried around for awhile in their cute widdle cheek pouches and then slowly mashed to death.

They Make Us Question Reality.

While the Platypus is advanced in a slew of off-the-walls ways, their also incredibly primitive. They diverged from other mammals while they were still in the process of evolving away from birds and reptiles, and they show it. Their like that one guy in your college literature seminar that read the first book and then stopped coming to class; they were with us up to a certain point, but while the rest of us kept moving on, they’re still at James Joyce, and have no intention of catching up.

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And much like the Platypus, nothing about his body of work makes any fucking sense.

The Platypus is still wildly bird-like, in more ways than just having a beak. They have ten sex chromosomes where as most mammals only have two; I couldn’t really tell you what that means, but it makes it sound like they’re five times better at sex than anything else out there, which is something I think we’d all like to say about ourselves. While they may have the chromosomes of birds however, the eggs they lay are most reminiscent of reptiles, showing us not only how primitive they are, but that there’s a link between the Platypus, lizards, and birds. A common ancestor. I’m gonna go ahead and interpret this as the Platypus being a furry-little-flat-footed dinosaur, and that’s really freaking cool.

These oddities have had humans questioning just how real a Platypus could possibly be since we first encountered them; the first English scientists in Australia were laughed out of London because there was no fucking way that the otter with a duck’s beak and a beaver’s flat tail was real. It took multiple people seeing live specimens to believe the thing was even real, and that was before the whole “discovering they lay eggs” debacle took the world by storm.

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Also a baby Platypus is called a Puggle, and if that isn’t divisive don’t know what is.

Going back even further, native aboriginals had an equally hard time accepting that these things just happened. Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different rendition; there’s a story about a heated love affair between a duck and a water rat, another that after the creator had made mammals, fish, and birds, he had a bunch of left-over parts and just kinda threw’em all together. A common thread that shows up in almost every version however, is each of these different families of animal; bird, mammal, and fish, all trying to convince the Platypus to pick a side, and join their group, because of course they want this maniac on their team.

Point is, people have always had a hard time wrapping their heads around these guys, because to look at them, they just don’t make sense. They’re an anomaly, a mystery, an enigma, a contradiction bound together with peculiarity. They are an illogical animal, and I love them for it.

 

So everything about the platypus is a little unsound. They disobey the laws of nature for no other reason than, “I fucking feel like it,” and ya know what I say? Do it Platypus. Go for it. Be weird. Be unfathomable. Be a little bit dorky. We could use more of that these days.

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