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New South Wales: Quoll Headquarters - 164 hectares - Steve Haslam

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Victoria: Witchwood - 9.1 hectares - Jill Redwood

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Queensland: The Roost - 39.75 hectares - Lynn Childs

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Tasmania: Lyn and Geoff's Refuge - 10 hectares - Lyn and Geoff Murray

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Western Australia: Tippaburra Valley - 2470 hectares - Buddy Kent

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New South Wales: Falls Forest Retreat - 80 hectares - Mary White

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Victoria: Wingura - 2.5 hectares - Suzanne and John Brandenberger

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Queensland: Cooper Creek Wilderness - 66.74 hectares - Prue Hewett

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Platypus PDF Print E-mail

 Platypus Nicole Duplaix

Platypus (c) Nicole Duplaix

 

At a glance

The iconic platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a semi-aquatic species found throughout reliably-running river systems in eastern Australia but threatened by dams, irrigation, pollution, netting and illegal trapping.

  • in the wild, platypus can survive for some 20 years
  • males are slightly larger than females with an average length of 50cm and weight of up to 2.4kg
  • they use their tails to store fat reserves and hunt with eyes closed
  • the ankle spur of male platypus produces a venom that can kill smaller animals and cause humans excruciating pain

 

The platypus lays claim to having the highest level of evolutionary distinctiveness of any mammal species worldwide.

 

Aside from echidnas, it is the only extant monotreme species and its highly unusual features (egg-laying, having a bill, webbed-feet, fat-filled tail and venomous spur) understandably perplexed early European naturalists.

 

The bill is primarily a sensory organ equipped with touch-detecting mechanoreceptors and electrosensors that identify currents generated by muscular contractions. This enables it to forage on river beds for macroinverterbrate prey, insect larvae in particular.

 

Adults typically consume around a quarter of their body mass in live food each day, with lactating females reaching an astonishing 80-90%. This sees the species travelling up to 10km in feeding sessions that occupy approximately 12 hours a day.

 

Foraging mainly occurs nocturnally and, since it is primarily along the river bed, platypus are predisposed to getting tangled in plastic litter (particularly in more urban habitats) as well as being susceptible to drowning in submerged nets and traps.

 

They rely on an intact and well-vegetated riparian zone for the provision of shade and shelter from predators and, during the day, typically shelter in a simple burrow at the water’s edge.

 

Females—sexually mature at around two years of age—dig longer (up to 30 metres) and more structurally complex burrows in which 1-3 eggs are laid in spring and incubated for just under 12 days prior to a lactation period of around four months. Milk is transferred from the mother's mammary glands to the skin where the young suckle her underbelly fur; platypus do not have teats.

 

The Action Plan for Australian Mammals classes the species as Near Threatened due to its overall population decline and threats directly affecting it and its habitat, including habitat degradation; water resource utilisation; fishing bycatch mortalities; and climate change. The Plan also notes that difficulties in reliably quantifying platypus abundance compromise estimations of population size and trends.

 

Despite only being listed as threatened in South Australia, it is faring particularly badly in Victoria. Studies show a complete absence of them in some river systems where they were formerly present. And other rivers known to support thousands of platypus at the time of European settlement have declined to less than 30 individuals, with juveniles completely absent.

 

Increased droughts, compounded by exposure to predation by dogs and risk of road mortality when moving over land are held as primary dangers. However, there is some positive news with the species recently being spotted in rivers in the northern Grampians for the first time in more than a decade.

 

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