It’s an improbable creature that seems to be built of spare parts from other species. The platypus is a semi-aquatic mammal, but it lays eggs. That makes it one of only five monotremes – mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth. Early Europeans in Australia didn’t know what to make of it – a duck bill, beaver tail, feet like an otter and a spur on the hind leg that delivers a potent venom. So improbable was this creature that British scientists in the late 1700s thought it was a hoax.
But we know otherwise. This unique creature is very real, and up close, very cute. But watch out for that spur. They’re a common site in some far north Queensland waterways. I often see them at the creek near the Chinese temple at Atherton. They’re a fairly small creature, but that wasn’t always the case.
A giant platypus with powerful teeth once roamed the rivers of northern Australia. It was at least twice the size of the modern platypus, had very powerful teeth and seems to have been a very effective predator. The scientists who’ve discovered evidence of its existence say it’s like a modern platypus on steroids – a platypus Godzilla.
Professor Mike Archer of the University of New South Wales is co-author of a report on the creature in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology. Mike says a tooth found at the famous Riversleigh world heritage area in north-west Queensland gives us an idea of how big this ancient platypus was. It’s been called Obdurodon tharalkooschild. Tharalkoo refers to a female duck in an indigenous dreamtime story who is ravished by a water rat named Bigoon, resulting in a child that was a cross between a duck and a rodent – the first platypus.