Scientists discover ancient giant duck-billed platypus

by | 8th November 2013

The duck-billed platypus is a really odd creature. It’s a mammal, but it lays eggs like a reptile and is also one of the world’s only venomous mammals.  It gets even odder when you hear that scientists now think that one of its ancient ancestors might have been so big that it fed on fish and even turtles.

This image shows Obdurodon tharalkooschild, a middle to late Cenozoic giant toothed platypus from the the World Heritage fossil deposits of Riversleigh, Australia. At about one meter (more than 3 feet) in length and with powerful teeth (inset: the holotype, a first lower molar), it would have been capable of killing much larger prey, such as lungfish and even small turtles, than its much smaller living relative. Illustration by: Peter Schouten.

  • Scientists have discovered a fossilized tooth in the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in northwest Queensland, Australia
  • Modern adult platypuses don’t have teeth but rather eat their prey of worms and insect larvae by grinding their bill.
  • The scientists think that the ancient platypus lived in water like the modern species, but unlike the modern platypus it fed on fish, crayfish and possibly even turtles.
  • It is estimated that the species went extinct between 15 and 5 million years ago.
  • The discovery of this ancient fossil will help scientists piece together where platypuses came from.
  • The reason that platypuses seem so strange is that they are the last survivors of a group of mammals called monotremes, all but four members of which are now extinct.
  • When the duck-billed platypus was first discovered back in 1799, many people thought the animal was so strange that it must be a joke played by the biologist who discovered it George Shaw.

Want to learn more?  Read the full story here: Giant turtle-devouring duck-billed platypus discovered

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