According to Google; “Where can I see a platypus?” is one of the most asked questions by tourists to Australia. We can also confirm that this is a question often asked by our guests. But would you have ever expected a platypus in your lounge room? This Blog should give you some answers.
Some Facts about the Platypus
You can read more information about platypuses on the Australian Platypus Conservancy web page and the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industry and National Parks page.
Platypus Vital Statistics
The adult platypus is between 4 – 500 mm in length, weighs from 0.6 kg to 2.5 kg and can live up to 21 years in the wild. The male platypus is larger than the female. In Tasmania platypuses tend to be bigger than their mainland cousins.
Platypuses have brown fur over their body. Although they have small eyes their eyesight (and hearing) is good on land. Underwater they prefer to close their eyes and ears and use electroreception to detect changes in the electrical fields similar to dolphins, sharks and bees.
The adult male produces venom delivered through a sharp spur on its hind legs. Although the venom is not life-threatening to humans, the pain inflicted is excruciating and can last over several weeks!
What Do Platypuses Eat?
Bottom-dwelling insects are the staple of the platypus diet. However, regional variations include larval mayflies and caddisflies, burrowing crayfish (Tasmania) and trout eggs. The platypus also dines on water bugs, water beetles, larval damselflies, dragonflies, dobsonflies, midges, craneflies and blackflies. Other prey includes freshwater shrimps, snails, “pea shell” mussels, seed-shrimps (or ostracods) and worms.
Because the platypus is small and warm-blooded, it needs a lot of food. In fact a platypus may eat 15 to 28% of its body weight in food each day. Furthermore lactating females need even more food. For example, a captive mother of twins ate 80% of her body weight in food each day!
So platypuses feed for long periods each day, typically 8 to 16 hours. They can complete up to 1600 foraging dives in a feeding session.
Platypus are fascinating animals. They are mammals – meaning they feed their young with milk – but even more exciting is that they are one of only two species of monotremes – egg-laying mammals – in the world! The other monotreme, of course, is the echidna.
Platypus prefer to be alone, only coming together to mate. The female platypus digs a breeding burrow up to 20 metres long with a nesting chamber lined with soft damp plant material at the end. Breeding occurs during Spring, with the female laying 1 to 3 tiny eggs. The female incubates her eggs for 10 to 12 days. Then after nursing from their mother for 6 weeks the young nestlings (or puggles) are ready to leave the burrow for brief swims. The mother weans the puggles at 4 to 5 months.
Platypus fluoresce under UV light!
The recent discovery has not been found in any other monotreme species, and it has scientists wondering: Have we been overlooking an ancient world of fluorescent fur?
It’s early days in uncovering the advantage of such bioluminescence. But one suggestion is it might help camouflage the platypus from other UV-sensitive nocturnal predators or prey by absorbing UV light instead of reflecting it.
Where Can I See a Platypus in Tasmania?
Platypus are found in rivers and lakes along the eastern seaboard of Australia. But Tasmania is a platypus hot spot where platypus can be seen in rivers, lakes and dams across the island. Recently a PhD student at the University of NSW surveyed centuries of historical data about platypuses. Unfortunately, Tahneal Hawke found evidence of platypuses plummeting in number, due to hunting, habitat loss, and climate change.
Platypus in the Ringarooma River
This special Australian can be seen working this stretch of the Ringarooma River looking for food. We often see platypus in the river in front of the cottages and in our dam. Look for a small carpet floating down the river, before it turns and starts foraging upstream. Between dives, it will rest for 10 seconds or so – diving as many as 80 times in an hour!
What is the Best Time to See a Platypus?
Platypuses prefer to hunt at night and sleep in their burrow during the day. So you are most likely to see a platypus just before sunset, or just after sunrise. But there is some good news. When the days are short in Tasmania you have a good chance of seeing a platypus during daylight hours. We have noticed that platypuses are most active in Spring. For example, some of our guests believe they have seen young platypuses out with their mother in late Spring. So we recommend September as the best month to spot platypus at Tin Dragon Cottages.
A Platypus in Our House
One day in mid-September, it had been raining and we were saying goodbye to our guests. Water was flowing down the gutter next to our driveway. Then one of our guests ran for the car to fetch her camera. There was a platypus making its way up the gutter. But the platypus took fright, hooked a right-hand turn and ran over her feet.
Much to our amazement it kept running through our open gate and up the back steps of our house onto the verandah. Then it ran in the back door into our lounge room! I raced for my camera as Graham went looking for a blanket to throw over the frightened animal. Remember those venomous spurs?
After several laps of our lounge room the platypus found its way back onto the verandah. With the speed of an elite athlete is ran down the verandah, jumped over 1 m to the ground, found its way under our fence and into the tail race of our micro hydro generator. I had no idea that a platypus could run so fast.
I chased after the platypus with my camera…
Care for Platypus
Platypus are fully protected in Australia. They are vulnerable to degradation of their habitat by damming, drainage and pollution. You can help protect the platypus in the Ringarooma River by leaving the trees and other vegetation on the river bank. Replace exotic trees – such as willows and holly trees, and weeds – such as blackberries, with natives such as blackwoods, native myrtles and tea trees. Prevent all farm chemicals such as pesticides and herbicides from running into the river and take all your rubbish to the Council tip.
Did You See the Ringarooma Platypus?
You can help care for the platypus, by reporting when and where you see a platypus. The Australian Platypus Conservancy has a form you can fill out online. You can email of phone-in a sighting to the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. There’s even a mobile phone App for you to report platypus sightings.