Studying the Platypus


5651Dr Tom Grant of UNSW spoke on this subject at the April 28th meeting, a research interest in which he has been involved for 40 years. Click here for details of his publication

While the International Union for Conservation of Nature (ICUN) classifies the status of the platypus as a ’species of least concern’, he argued that it is more probable that it is vulnerable, due to its dependence on water in which to feed. Spread along eastern Australia from Cooktown and to Tasmania, more investigation is needed to determine the current platypus population. Large numbers were trapped and shot in the 19th century, and there are remaining threats to their continued conservation. They are no longer found in the streams of the Adelaide Hills, Mount Lofty Ranges, and Fleurieux Peninsula in South Australia, where they once occurred. platypusLg

The Platypus is mobile, reclusive and active throughout the night but most often seen around dawn and dusk. The male has a poisonous spur that it may use in its defence, but is predominantly used against other males during the breeding season. Capture can be risky as they drown if caught and trapped underwater for too long. Radio-telemetry has been used to investigate platypus biology. When foraging, the platypus’s main sensory organ is its bill, much more sensitive than its eyes and ears that are closed when underwater. It has receptors that detect touch, pressure, and electric fields from its prey.

imagesBecause platypus populations can be small or spread along rivers, and many animals are mobile, population numbers are difficult to determine accurately. The Australian Platypus Conservancy encourages the public to report sightings of platypus as a way of determining population sizes at particular places. The Platypus is protected, but threats to survival include mortality in illegally set nets and traps, and habitat degradation. Natural and regulated high and low flows ofwater through rivers and creeks can damage nesting and feeding sites.Fossils of ancient forms of platypus have been found in central Australia, but during the time when these species existed the areas were wet, not arid as they are now. The platypus is found in most areas where it was prior to European occupation of Australia, but its populations are probably lower.Platypus_in_its_habitat

Extreme weather events resulting from climate change are likely to decrease the size and distribution of platypus  populations. They depend on a stable supply of water, and droughts can reduce current, distribution and numbers. Floods have a detrimental effect on juvenile platypus survival. Foxes are predators and some populations in Tasmania have been prone to a potentially fatal fungal disease causing ulcers and lesions. Use of illegal fishing nets is also a serious problem, as Platypus need to surface regularly to breathe. &

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