July 25, 2013
Platypus: Cute But Deadly
One of the most exotic and strange looking animals that we know about so far is Ornithorhynchus anatinus. Very little has ever been discovered about this strange mammal and only recently did we discover his true power.
Commonly known as a platypus, ornithorhynchus is one of only three mammals that lays eggs (the other two being species of echidna). The platypus egg laying is not the only characteristic that sets him apart from the rest of the mammals. They have the body of a beaver, mammary glands of any mammal, the bill and webbed feet of a duck, and the dangerous venom of a reptile. Up until now, we did not know the full potential of the venom of a platypus.
The venom of this incredible creature is present only in the male webbed feet. The venom comes out from a pair of spurs that they have in the back of their hind limbs. These spurs are attached to the platypuses’ hind legs via a small bone that allows the spur to be turned to a right angle from the leg to expand the mobility of an attack. Under normal circumstances, the spur can be found flat against the skin of the leg. But, if they are threatened for any reason, the platypus is able to raise the spur and aim.
The venom has been analyzed by many scientists and some interesting things have been found. First of all, and perhaps the most important fact, is that the venom is not lethal towards humans. It can, however, be powerful enough to kill a dog. Even though the venom of a platypus has the ability to paralyze its’ unfortunate receiver, the venom is not used as a form of capturing prey. It is only used as self-defense. The venom has been compared to the excruciating pain of a jellyfish, and is so extensive that, in a clinical study, it was reported that the pain could last for months and could not be controlled with the strongest painkillers, not even morphine. According to Richard Dawkins, an evolutionary biologist, the study of why morphine doesn’t alleviate the pain of the platypus’s sting would help researchers understand the excruciating pain of some cancers and why they can’t be controlled by morphine, either.
As cute and strange as these creatures are, they are extremely dangerous. Their dangerousness should not stir us away from discovering more about them, what so ever. The fact that we know so little about them should actually push us forward to learn more, because the more we know, the more we will understand their needs and the benefits they bring into our world.
Image Credit: Thinkstock.com