The Duck Billed Platypus by J. R. S. C.

The Duck-Billed Platypus. The Duck-Billed Platypus.

So far as we know at present, the platypus duck-mole, or water-mole, is the strangest of all animals. Its home is in Australia, but, owing to the progress of civilisation, it appears likely to die out before long, for many of its haunts have been disturbed by the advancing white man.

When the first specimens reached England, dried, the creature puzzled the naturalists, who were almost inclined to think it was not genuine. The animal is about twenty inches long, covered with thick soft fur, which is brown on the back, and white below. The curious muzzle is lengthened and flattened, much resembling the beak of a duck; its edges are hard, and at the back part of the mouth are four teeth. But it cannot grasp anything very firmly with the bill, which shows that its food must be of a soft nature. The feet of the platypus are five-toed and webbed, being, like the rest of the body, suited for an aquatic life. Another singular fact is that the animal has a spur on each hind leg. This spur is connected with a gland, which resembles those of serpents, and may contain poison. Certainly it appears as if this spur is a sort of weapon, though the animal is of peaceful habits.

Before sleeping, the platypus curls round to keep itself warm, and brings the flattened tail over the back. It is very particular about the fur, which is kept smooth and clean by means of the beak, and is also brushed with the feet. Much of the animal's time is passed in diving and swimming, the food being mostly water insects, or such as are to be found on the banks of streams. The platypus is an excellent digger, and forms deep burrows or tunnels, the opening being hidden by the herbage of the bank. At the bottom there is generally a nest, carefully lined by the animal with grass and leaves. There the young ones are brought up by the parents.