Along with four species of echidna (a mammal that looks a bit like a porcupine), the platypus is one of only five species of monotremes in the world. Monotremes are mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth to live young.
The platypus has a bill like a duck, a tail like a beaver, the skin and feet of an otter, and venom like a snake. These features truly make the platypus one of the most unique creatures on Earth. In fact, when the platypus was first discovered hundreds of years ago, scientists at the time thought it was an elaborate hoax.
The name “platypus” comes from the Greek word for “flat-footed.” The male platypus has special spurs on its hind feet that it can use to defend itself by injecting painful venom into a predator. Although the venom isn’t deadly to humans, it can cause severe pain.
The platypus can walk and run on land, but it moves awkwardly. Its webbed feet and waterproof skin help it to live much of the time in the water, where it feeds on insects, shellfish, worms, and other small creatures at the bottom of bodies of water.
The platypus is mostly nocturnal and can spend up to 10 hours at a time in the water, searching for food. When it’s done swimming, the platypus likes to live in a burrow dug into the bank of a nearby body of water.
The female platypus lays one or two eggs each season. When a baby platypus emerges from its shell, it’s about the size of a lima bean. Its mother will take care of it for three months or so until it’s ready to head out into the world on its own.