Today’s picture comes from the Grand Gallery of Evolution at the National Museum of Natural Science in Paris, and shows three platypode (yes, that’s the plural of platypus, since the word has Greek roots), presumably at play:
The platypus is an odd creature — so odd that when European naturalists got their first specimens of it, they were sure they were looking at the results of an elaborate hoax. At first glance, it has the body and tail of a beaver, the bill of a duck, and feet almost like an otter’s.
But dig a bit deeper, and the platypus gets even more interesting. It’s one of a handful of mammals that lay eggs, the small group that does being known as monotremes. The platypus and its fellow monotremes are also the only mammals known to use electroreception — using sensory glands to track their prey by electrical signals given off during muscular contractions. The platypus is also one of a few species of venomous mammals; the males delivering venom by way of a spur on their hind legs. The venom is only produced by males, and production peaks during mating season, so it’s thought that the stuff is primarily used in sorting out reproductive hierarchies.
Once hunted for its fur, the platypus is now a protected (if not apparently endangered) species in Australia, its natural home. While the relation of platypode and other monotremes to the rest of the mammals was disputed for some time, it now seems that they are the descendants of an early branching of the mammalian family tree.