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Discovery Magazine 5/1/1998

The Animal That Wasn’t Supposed to Exist!

If someone told you that they had seen an animal that lays eggs like a turtle, feeds its young on milk like a mammal, has a bill like a duck, a tail like a beaver, hair like a bear, webbed feet like an otter, claws like reptile, poison like a snake, and spurs like a rooster, what would you think? Your first thought likely would be that no such animal exists—right?

That’s what scientists thought when they first came across the animal known as the "duck-billed platypus" (PLAT-uh-pus), which is one of the most unusual of all animals. It has hair on its body and is warm-blooded, like all mammals. But it also possesses features that generally are found only among birds or reptiles (like a bill and claws). The platypus lives near water, mostly in eastern Australia and Tasmania. It builds tunnels (that can be over 65 feet long!) in the soft earth along riverbanks, or in crevices along streams.

The platypus is amphibious (it lives both on land and in water). It is an excellent swimmer, but also can walk on land by pulling back the webbed part of its front feet. An adult platypus does not have teeth. As it uses its snout to find food (crayfish, shrimp, worms, etc.), it picks up small pieces of sand and gravel that help grind the food. And sometimes the platypus doesn’t eat the food immediately. Instead, it stores the food in small pouches within its cheeks, and then eats it later.

When God designed the platypus, He gave it many beneficial characteristics. It’s long, sleek body and webbed front feet propel it through the water (it "rows" through the water with its front legs). Plus, its waterproof fur keeps it from getting "waterlogged." The duck-like bill on its snout is covered with a tough skin that contains nerves, which allow the platypus to feel along the river bottom for food. The claws on its front feet allow the platypus to dig tunnels along rivers and streams. And its tube-like body allows it to enter and exit the tunnels with ease. For protection, the platypus has claws on its back feet that are connected to a venom gland (like the fangs in a snake). The poison secreted by the claws can kill small animals, and severely wound larger ones.

Platypuses breed between August and October. The female collects grass and leaves under her tail, and carries them to her tunnel to make a nest where she will lay two white, soft-shelled eggs that are about the size of marbles. Two weeks later, the eggs hatch and the baby platypuses are fed by their mother’s milk. After about five months, they will leave their burrow for the first time. A full-grown male platypus can be 2 feet long, and although it weighs less than four pounds, is extremely powerful.

Genesis 1:24 discusses the time during creation when God made the animals: "Then God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping things and beast of the earth, each according to its kind;’ and it was so." Every time we look at animals, they should remind us of the great power of our God—Who can make an animal that has claws like a reptile, fur like a mammal, eggs like a bill like bird, and can swim like a fish. What an amazing animal. What an amazing God!



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