The Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a semi-aquatic mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young. It is the sole living representative of its family (Ornithorhynchidae) and genus (Ornithorhynchus), though a number of related species have been found in the fossil record.
The bizarre appearance of this egg-laying, venomous, duck-billed, beaver-tailed, otter-footed mammal baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some considering it an elaborate fraud. It is one of the few venomous mammals; the male Platypus has a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans. The unique features of the Platypus make it an important subject in the study of evolutionary biology and a recognisable and iconic symbol of Australia; it has appeared as a mascot at national events and is featured on the reverse of the Australian 20 cent coin.
Until the early 20th century it was hunted for its fur, but it is now protected throughout its range. Although captive breeding programs have had only limited success and the Platypus is vulnerable to the effects of pollution, it is not under any immediate threat.
Taxonomy and etymology
When the Platypus was first discovered by Europeans in 1798, a pelt and sketch were sent back to the United Kingdom by Captain John Hunter, the second Governor of New South Wales. The British scientists were at first convinced that the attributes must have been a hoax. George Shaw, who produced the first description of the animal in the Naturalist's Miscellany in 1799, stated that it was impossible not to entertain doubts as to its genuine nature, and Robert Knox believed it may have been produced by some Asian taxidermist. It was thought that somebody had sewn a duck's beak onto the body of a beaver-like animal. Shaw even took a pair of scissors to the dried skin to check for stitches.
The common name, Platypus, is Latin derived from the Greek words πλατύς ("platys", flat, broad) and πους ("pous", foot), meaning "flat foot". Shaw assigned it as a Linnaean genus name when he initially described it, but the term was quickly discovered to already belong to the wood-boring ambrosia beetle (genus Platypus). It was independently described as Ornithorhynchus paradoxus by Johann Blumenbach in 1800 (from a specimen given to him by Sir Joseph Banks) and following the rules of priority of nomenclature it was later officially recognised as Ornithorhynchus anatinus. The scientific name Ornithorhynchus is derived from ορνιθόρυνχος ("ornithorhynkhos"), which literally means "bird snout" in Greek, and anatinus, which means "duck-like" in Latin.
There is no universally agreed upon plural of "platypus" in the English language. Scientists generally use "platypuses" or simply "platypus". Colloquially, "platypi" is also used for the plural, although this is pseudo-Latin; the Greek plural would be "platypodes". Early British settlers called it by many names, such as watermole, duckbill, and duckmole. The name "Platypus" is often prefixed with the adjective "duck-billed" to form Duck-billed Platypus, despite there being only one species of Platypus.
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