Monotremes

PLATYPUS,Ornithorhynchus anatinus

The Platypus, with its duck bill and webbed feet, is a unique Australian animal. It and the Echidna are the only monotremes or egg-laying mammals to be found on earth, both found widely in Tasmania. The monotremes have lower body temperatures than other mammals and have legs which extend out, then vertically below them, resulting in a gait that resembles a reptilian waddle rather than a straight-line gait. These features, together with their egg-laying, are more like that of a lizard than a mammal. Platypus are readily identified by their streamlined body, webbed feet, broad tail and characteristic muzzle or bill which is rubbery and contains no true teeth. Since platypus dive repeatedly for food, they generally are only sighted when they briefly return to the surface to breathe. Then the top of their head, back and tail can be seen – like the tip of an iceberg, the rest remains submerged.

Compared to those found on the mainland, Tasmanian Platypus are relatively huge, with some adult males weighing up to 3 kg. They have two layers of fur -- a dense waterproof outercoat and a grey woolly underfur to provide much needed insulation. The fur on the broad flat tail is coarse and bristly. They have a smooth swimming action together with a low body profile and no visible ears, making them easily recognisable in the water. The webbed fore-paw is used for swimming, and on land, the skin, which extends beyond the long claws, is folded back to enable the animal to walk or burrow. The webbing on the hind foot does not extend beyond the bases of the claws and this foot is used mainly for steering and to tread water. The tail acts as a powerful rudder when swimming and also aids the animal when diving. The male has a spur on the inner side of each hind limb, which is connected by means of a hollow groove to a poison gland. The poison is capable of inflicting a very painful injury to humans. Suprisingly, platypus are capable of many vocalisations including a soft growling sound when disturbed. Listen here

SHORT-BEAKED ECHIDNA, Tachyglossus aculeatus

Echidnas, or spiny ant eaters as they are sometimes known, are monotremes (mammals that lay eggs). There are only three species of monotreme in the world - the platypus and two species of echidna, one of which is restricted to the New Guinea highlands. Echidnas are 30 cm to 45 cm in length and weigh between 2 kg and 5 kg with Tasmanian animals being larger than their Australian mainland counterparts. The body, with the exception of the underside, face and legs, is covered with cream coloured spines. These spines, which reach 50 mm in length, are in fact modified hairs. Insulation is provided by fur between the spines which ranges in colour from honey to a dark reddish-brown and even black. The fur of the Tasmanian subspecies is thicker and longer than that of echidnas in warmer mainland areas and therefore often conceals the spines. The echidna is common throughout most of temperate Australia and lowland New Guinea. In Tasmania, it is particularly common in dry open country on the east coast. It is also found on open heathlands and in forests and can sometimes be seen slowly wandering along roadsides in its characteristic rolling gait. It is shy and moves slowly and carefully. If disturbed, echidnas will usually lower the head, and with vigorous digging, sink rapidly into the ground leaving only the spines exposed. On hard surfaces they will curl into a ball - presenting defensive spines in every direction. They are also capable of wedging tightly into crevices or logs by extending their spines and limbs.

The Echidna is adapted for very rapid digging, having short limbs and powerful claws. The claws on the hind feet are elongated and curve backwards; to enable cleaning and grooming between the spines. Surprisingly, echidnas are good swimmers, paddling about with only the snout and a few spines showing. They have been seen to cross wide beaches to swim and groom themselves in the sea. The Echidna is common and widespread.

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