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Impressing with uniqueness: The platypus


I just have to begin with one of my children’s favourite jokes: “A platypus produces milk and lays eggs. It’s a custard machine.”

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a competition for the best mammal between the countries of the world? If there was, there is no doubt in my mind that Australia should enter the platypus. It’s definitely an animal that astounds: classed as a mammal, it produces milk but it also lays eggs, and the male even has a venomous spur on its back legs.

Just a quick note to explain the difference between poisonous and venomous: if you bite into something (e.g. a frog), it’s poisonous and if something bites or spurs you (think snake, spider or platypus), it’s venomous.

So on top of being able to make its own custard, the platypus is also a venomous mammal – and there aren’t very many of those about! If you take into account its beak, tail and elusive behaviour I think the platypus is a serious contender for the world’s best mammal.

The platypus also impresses with its incredibly streamlined shape. Talking with the children about the shape of animals is a wonderful tool for exploring the different adaptations the animals have to their environment. Why are dolphins, seals and platypus the shape they are? You could watch a video of a platypus swimming and compare it to how other animals swim. What about big aquatic mammals like the blue whale? What is their shape? How do they swim? You could look into how the blue whale got to be the size it is.

Talking about the word ‘streamlined’ itself could lead you into many different STEM explorations with the children. An engineering investigation could be how objects move through water, running objects like blocks or models or aquatic animals through the water or looking at submarine design or even the shape of new cars compared to older ones.

If you are looking for some inspiration for exploring some more aquatic animals, check out our articles on otters, rays, penguins, octopuses, dolphins, seahorses and sea turtles. If you are specifically interested in our Australian furry friends, we also have something on kangaroos and wombats for you. Just keep in mind that the platypus really is our most fascinating mammal. Or is it?

Hayley Bates
Article author: Hayley Bates
National Certifications Coordinator

This passionate mathematician and former science teacher will inspire you with her enthusiasm for inquiry-based learning and her determination to provide high-quality hands-on and fun professional development.

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