May 17, 2005
Puggles - The Baby Platypus
They've got webbed feet, a duck bill, and they lay eggs... but they're not a bird. The duck-billed platypus is one of the most interesting mammals around. It defies many of the "rules" originally put forth to define a mammal, and when scientists first discovered them, they were considered a hoax, and you can't blame them! After all, the males also have venomous back feet with enough poison to kill a small child! With a beaver-like tail, the platypus swims in freshwater on the eastern part of Australia, but their numbers are dwindling due to pollution and other factors. But they're so damn cute!
Did I mention that platypus babies are refered to as puggles? Puggles is the generic term for all baby monotremes, including those in the platypus family (see comments for details) because no official baby name exists for them (although "platypup" is favored). How come this little tidbit never comes up on Jeopardy or Animal Planet?
Now an Australian zoo has finally managed to breed some of these funny-looking creatures in captivity - and hopefully more zoos will eventually partake in a breeding program to help save these creatures from extinction.
The pride of Sydney's Taronga Zoo, platypus twin girls named Samantha and Binari, find themselves in the same situation of which many Sydney women complain: Try as they might, neither twin can find a good male with which to settle down and have babies.
For 20 years attempts at breeding platypuses in captivity had gone astray, for reasons that may sound familiar: The conditions weren't right; the participants didn't get on; or one platypus just wasn't in the mood.
More at: Sydney Zoo Plays Platypus Matchmaker
Perhaps some help from Japanese scientists could help? Supposedly, they've managed to make mice reproduce without needing any male involvement whatsoever!
Dads, in the mammalian branch of the animal kingdom, are often out of the loop when it comes to producing progeny. After that initial contribution of sperm, they are excluded from pregnancy and are all but superfluous even after birth, when nurturing falls to Mom. Now Japanese scientists have streamlined reproduction even further—they have eliminated fathers entirely.
Scientists led by Tomohiro Kono, a biologist at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, have created baby mice without the introduction of sperm.
Amphibians, fish, and insects are able to reproduce from eggs alone—a process called parthenogenesis. But under normal circumstances mammals, including humans and mice, cannot. They need genetic contributions from mom and dad.
Funny that last paragraph... since duck-billed playtpi are mammals and do lay eggs.... but I digress. Getting these creatures to reproduce can't be easy. The normal reproductive methods used by zoos - like in-vitro and such - might work well in most mammals, but the platypus reproductive system is quite unique.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Photo of platypus by the Environmental Protection Agency of Australia.
Posted by sorsha at May 17, 2005 4:20 PM
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