Bush Capital | The ever-elusive platypus

Ancient mythology speaks of an attractive female duck who fell in love with a persuasive, yet lonely, water rat. The charming duck's offspring had their mother's wonderful bill and intricate webbed feet. They inherited their father's thick fur.

I SPY: On May 2 you can find out how to spot a platypus in the wild, and how you can become part of a citizen scientist program. Photo: University of Adelaide

I SPY: On May 2 you can find out how to spot a platypus in the wild, and how you can become part of a citizen scientist program. Photo: University of Adelaide

As Europeans ventured across this continent, these peculiar critters, colloquially referred to as 'water moles', were observed in and around the creeks, rivers and lakes of our intriguing landscape.

A specimen was soon dispatched back to England for scientific identification. Suspicions in London were heightened, and it was thought to be an elaborate hoax from a distant colony. Sharp scissors cut the plush pelt searching for the suspected stitches attaching the duck-like bill to the skin.

No stitches were found. Evolution had spoken.

Our elusive platypus is one of the world's most unique creatures. With its soft double coat, this warm-blooded mammal nurtures its young with nourishing milk. Yet it lays soft-shelled eggs much like a bird. What a contradiction. Under water, its highly sensitive bill emits minute electronic pulses scanning for carnivorous prey to feast upon. The males are equipped with venomous spurs to help them proficiently sort out any disagreements with would-be predators. Its closest relative is the land-loving spiny echidna.

As far as egg-laying mammals go, our monotremes are without equal. Representing an entire species dating back some 165 million years, they are the most evolutionarily advanced mammals on the planet.

With a reputation of being seldom seen, platypuses are indeed resilient. They occupy an ecological niche in a diverse range of riparian habitats, so patience is the secret to a rewarding experience of observing them in the wild.

Among many platypus hot spots, the wetland sanctuary nestled in the heart of the Tidbinbilla Valley is a must. Here you have a opportunity to observe a platypus going about its business; foraging on the surface before submerging, searching for prey.

The Queanbeyan River, close to the city centre, is another hot spot, showing that people and platypuses can cohabit. However, very little is known of their distribution across our wider region.

But now is your chance to learn more. Geoff Williams from the Australian Platypus Conservancy will be here to share his knowledge of this amazing animal.

Geoff will provide hints on how to spot platypus in the wild, including involvement in the Australian Platypus Monitoring Network.

Where: The Robertson Building, ANU.

When: Thursday, May 2 from 7pm.

  • Brett McNamara is with ACT Parks & Conservation Service.

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