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Between Bird and Mammal Lies the 6th Sense…

March 23, 2009 on 1:45 pm | In Evolution, Life |

This Australian “mammal” is one of the most bizarre creatures on Earth, having many of the characteristics usually reserved for either birds only or mammals only:

Ladies and gentlemen, the duck-billed platypus! Its most notable features are as follows:

1. It lays eggs. This is usually reserved exclusively for birds, reptiles, dinosaurs, etc. And these eggs are tiny! Mammals gestate with the eggs inside of them, giving birth to live young, but here’s a mammal that lays eggs!

2. It’s furry. Like mammals are — no feathers for this guy — the platypus is not only covered in fur, it’s got such a nice coat that it has historically been hunted for its fur!

3. It is venomous! This is extremely rare for mammals, and the platypus itself has three venomous compounds in it that are unique in all of nature to the platypus itself. The venom is emitted through a spur in the platypus’ foot, right around its ankle. And speaking of feet…

4. It has otter-like feet. Totally mammalian, you got it. On the other hand…

5. It has a duck-like bill. Totally bird-like, of course. On the other hand…

6. It has a beaver-like tail. Mammalian, I got it. I suppose we can go on and on, listing all the ways this animal is neither bird nor mammal, all of which I find fascinating. But this animal can do something that you and I cannot, no matter how hard we try. Your skin, your epidermal layer, is fantastic for sensing temperature, pressure, and pain. These three types of sensor suit us remarkably well, and allow us to experience all sorts of interesting sensations, like itch and ticklishness. But the platypus has us beat, because in addition to these, the platypus can detect electricity!

That’s right, the duck-billed platypus has the most sophisticated sense of “electroreception” of any mammal, allowing it to track its aquatic prey by locating where an electrical stimulus resulting from muscle contraction came from. Normally, we only see this in predatory fish, like I’ll show you in the image below:

But here it is, in a platypus! How cool of a sense is that?! So the next time someone tells you about “the sixth sense,” don’t think of ESP and don’t think of Bruce Willis, think about the platypus, an animal with a real sixth sense: the ability to detect electricity!

Because I want a sense like that…


42 Comments »

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  1. I have a sixth sense too, when I don’t do my chores around the house I can sense when my fiance is going to go off on me!

    Comment by Dan — March 23, 2009 #

  2. As Robin Williams has observed, “Does God get stoned? Are you kidding? Check out the platypus.”

    Comment by vanderleun — March 23, 2009 #

  3. The Platypus is nature´s way of saying: “Hey I made this up from some left over parts and it can still kill you”

    Comment by Beasjt — March 25, 2009 #

  4. I’m always surprised when I see how small they are.

    I’ve begged Squishables to get one - as an understudy if need be.

    Comment by Sili — March 28, 2009 #

  5. a true marvel, let’s pray we don’t screw up again and eliminate another little bizarre creature from our midst.

    Comment by mahoon — June 28, 2009 #

  6. nyrmJx

    Comment by Tndyohxl — July 14, 2009 #

  7. It’s amazing how many brown mammals we’re eliminating from the planet. The platypus sort of resembles a modern Dodo too, in a way - let’s hope we can prevent it from suffering the same fate…

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  17. The platypus was not the first of this “bizzare” mammals. Dinectodon in the early Triassic was considered a mammal but walked in a way ONLY reptiles can. Thank you for posting such and interesting topic!

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