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Do Platypus Make Great Pets? (Legality, Ethics & More)

Chris Dinesen Rogers

Many animals find their way into people’s homes because they’re so cute, making them hard to resist. Who can deny how cute a Golden Retriever puppy is or sweet a playful kitten looks? For some, it’s also about having an exotic pet. It may be hard for someone who isn’t an enthusiast to understand why 4.5 million American households have a reptile in their home.

The term exotic means a lot of different things, depending on your state. It could be something benign, such as a pony or crossing into uncharted territory with a kangaroo. However, if you have your heart set on a platypus, you should probably look elsewhere. There are many reasons to strike one off of your shortlist, beginning with its conservation status in the wild.

divider-foodPlatypus in the Wild

Platypus in the sea_Martin Pelanek_Shutterstock
Image Credit: Martin Pelanek, Shutterstock

The platypus, also called the Duck-Billed Platypus, is an anomaly from several fronts. It’s a mammal, but it is also an egg layer, which we associate with birds and reptiles. It lives part-time in water, which isn’t unusual for an animal of its kind. When you look at it, you can’t help but think that Mother Nature is laughing. It’s part mammal, part duck, part beaver, and part sting ray, with its electrolocation.

It’s safe to say that the platypus is probably a transitional species that managed to survive its environmental challenges.

The more important fact to bear in mind is the platypus’s status in the wild. The animal only lives on the east coast of Australia, no place else. Its numbers there are dwindling. They have dropped so much that the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) has listed the species as near threatened. That’s enough to raise a plethora of red flags.

Things haven’t gotten much better for the platypus in the last few years because of bushfires. They have decimated the species habitat, along with many other animals in Australia. These factors have prompted the country to list it as a protected species.

The Australian government forbids keeping the platypus as a pet. It also makes it next to impossible to export, except to zoos and scientific institutions. So, if you thought it would be easy to get one, sorry to disappoint. It ain’t happening. Besides, you have to consider the ethics behind making such a choice. Is it really humane to import an animal that is on the brink of disappearing in the wild? We think not.

Habitat in Its Native Australia

If for some reason, you were able to get a Platypus, you have to think about how you would keep it. In the wild, it lives in inland wetlands. It enjoys hanging out in streams, splashing in the water, and hunting for food. It can also live in streams. The home range for a Platypus is from 0.14–0.25 square miles, not a small chunk of change since that translates to 89–172 acres.

Clean water is essential since the platypus is sensitive to toxins and urban surface water runoff. It’s not any better with agricultural wastewater effluents. So, you’re talking about a lot of space that is also pristine because of the other vital factor for a Platypus.

Care of the Platypus

In the wild, platypus feed on invertebrates of all sorts. They’ll also eat fry and small fish. All of these species require pure water, too. Oh, and you must offer them live food, although you can try freeze-dried products.

If you know your way around a pet store, you’re probably realizing that it’s not an inexpensive proposition to keep this animal as a pet when feeding live food. It also needs a large water body that you must maintain to keep it healthy. That means a heavy-duty, high-capacity filter and everything else that brings.

The other problem with keeping a platypus is that it eats a lot of food every day, and it’s picky. It’s not an animal that is captive-bred, which means it may not recognize commercial or processed food. A platypus needs to see a prey species moving around to trigger its predatory instincts. It also hoards or stashes its food, which can make maintaining the water quality an issue if it decays.

The Deal-Breaker

Keeping a platypus as a pet is almost entirely out of the question. It’s threatened in the wild and it’s probably not even legal. Its care and diet are not easy to replicate for the hobbyist. As if you need any other reason, there’s one that might hit closer to home.

When you think of venomous animals, species such as rattlesnakes and scorpions probably come to mind. Strange as it may seem, some people have them as pets. The platypus stands unique as a mammalian species that shares this toxic trait. Many animals use poison as a way to detract predators or kill prey. That’s exactly the evolutionary force behind the venom of the male’s ankle spurs.

It’s potent enough to get the job done with prey or predators. As far as humans are concerned, the venom of the platypus won’t kill you. But before you dismiss it, we have to remind you that you’ll feel its sting immediately. And it just isn’t uncomfortable. It’s agonizing or excruciating as many researchers have described it. If that weren’t enough, the pain doesn’t go away quickly. It lasts a long time.

However, hearing pain defined this way, we think even a few seconds is enough to put the platypus squarely in the deal-breaker category without hesitation.

divider-foodFinal Thoughts

The platypus is a fascinating animal, with an interesting history and survival strategy. We won’t deny that it’s cute. However, that fact alone doesn’t make it a candidate as a pet. The species faces the threat of extinction in the wild, which takes it out of the legal pet trade. It’s also not an easy animal to keep, even in zoos. Finally, its venomous capability is enough to take it off anyone’s list for a family pet.


Featured Image Credit: Martin Pelanek, Shutterstock

Chris Dinesen Rogers

Chris has written on a variety of topics since 2009. Her motto with all of her writing is “science-based writing nurtured by education and critical thinking.” She specializes in science topics, with a special love for health and environmental topics, and of course, pets of all shapes and sizes. Chris lives happily with her hubby and three cats in the land of 10,000 lakes, writing, wining, and boating as much as she can. She and her husband, Norm, were awarded the State of Kentucky Colonel Honor for their restoration work at Mammoth Cave National Park. Chris’s current passion is wine. She has her WSET 1 and 2 certifications and is currently pursuing her Certified Wine Specialist Award (CSW).