Monday, May 12, 2008

Latest Platypus Findings

Having long since reached the limits of what anal probing can tell us about animals, scientists have taken to sequencing genomes, a recent example being the platypus, Australia's flagship chimera:

Decoding the platypus genome has long been an important goal for biologists seeking to understand the origins of mammal evolution.

The study, appearing in today's edition of the journal Nature, gives scientists a new window into the genetic architecture of the earliest mammals.

"The platypus genome, like the animal itself, is an amazing amalgam of reptile-like and mammal-like features," said project co-leader Jennifer Graves, of the Australian National University in Canberra.
For those of you hoping to keep a platypus as a pet, you'll be wise to choose a female:
Male platypuses produce a pain-inducing, snake-like venom, composed of at least 19 different substances, which is delivered to enemies or rival males through spurs on the males' hind legs.
The interesting thing about platypus venom is that it plays no role in predation, but serves only to inflict pain on sexual rivals or to defend against predators.

I don't know if this is actually true* -- my hands-on research on platypuses, whether of the anal-probing or genome-sequencing variety, is zero -- but it was presented as a fact in a televised documentary I saw on the platypus, which illustrated the point by recreating an anecdote in which an Australian man made the mistake of grabbing a wild platypus. Long story short: the platypus dug in with his venemous spurs, and the man's yelp of pain was very Aussie-sounding.

He should have grabbed a female.

*Wikipedia agrees that platypus venom is not used for predation. This makes sense -- female platypuses don't have venom spurs and yet require food.


mikesdak said...

Ah,the platypus....another indication that the alleged intelligent designer has a sense of humor and/or a mild substance abuse problem.

Dale said...

Hmmm. God as a sloppy drunk ... I like that idea!