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What Does the Platypus Eat?
Chris Dinesen Rogers
The platypus is a curious animal on so many scores. It is the only surviving member of both its genus (Ornithorhynchus) and family (Ornithorhynchidae). That fact alone makes it unique. After all, there are no comparisons from which to draw. It turns out that the species’ diet is equally different from what it eats to how it digests its food.
The platypus is near threatened, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), with an estimated 30,000–300,000 individuals. It is a terrestrial animal, with a lifespan of about 12 years. It is an aquatic animal, with several adaptations to this lifestyle. It has waterproof fur to help it maintain its body temperature and retain buoyancy.
These animals can go under the surface for short times. These facts provide valuable clues about what the platypus eats in its native habitat.
Habitat in the Wild
The first step to understanding what the platypus eats is knowing where it lives and what is available as food. The species has a limited range that encompasses only the eastern coast of Australia, south into Tasmania. Its preferred habitat is inland wetlands. It is a nocturnal animal since it is a prey species. Dingos, foxes, eagles, and humans are among its predators.
The platypus has relatively small home ranges of about 0.14–0.25 square miles or 89–172 acres. That makes sense from an evolutionary perspective. Wetlands are a hard environment from which to traverse. The same thing applies to other animals that live in these places. We can surmise that it has a dense prey density so that all species can conserve energy while gathering food.
Related Read: Do Platypus Make Great Pets? (Legality, Ethics & More)
We can begin by stating that the platypus is a carnivore. They are part of a group of egg-laying mammals or monotremes. That fact might signal different biological needs, which turns out to be the case. Surprisingly, the Platypus, like teleost fish such as carp, doesn’t have a stomach. Scientists speculate that it’s due in part to the fact that it doesn’t need the gastric enzymes the organ can produce.
The platypus is an aquatic animal that feeds on foods that share its habitat preference. Researchers suspect that its environment with its chalky soils creating alkaline water chemistry making these chemicals a moot point. That fact may also explain why these animals are carnivores that don’t eat any plants. These foodstuffs require more enzymes to break down the cell walls of plants to digest.
Instead, the platypus eats a variety of foods, ranging from fish eggs to shrimp to small fish. Surprisingly, the animal consumes a lot of food, given its diet preference. We’d typically associate large amounts with a herbivore’s diet with its rapid digestion instead of a carnivore. It also spends a lot of time foraging, which isn’t unusual for a meat-eater. Often, the hunting success rate is low, necessitating this time.
The platypus doesn’t venture outside of its aquatic environment to feed. It finds everything it needs in the lakes, wetlands, and streams in which it lives. This species is also unique in how it gathers prey. It stands unique as a venomous mammal. Its toxicity is enough to kill small animals. While it won’t harm humans, it will leave a lasting impression with excruciating pain if stung by the spur on its back feet.
Factors Affecting the Platypus Eats
The platypus faces many environmental threats that it shares with other species. Development and agriculture present perennial risks. Because it is an aquatic animal, anything that can affect the water quality can harm it, including surface water runoff, drought, and flooding. The same thing applies to the prey species on which it feeds, which are even more sensitive to environmental conditions.
Climate change has also impacted the platypus and other species. That has prompted the Australian government to move forward with more stringent protection measures and the development of sanctuaries to save this unique animal as the threat of extinction looms close.
The platypus is a fascinating animal not just because of how cute it is. This animal also represents a link to the ancient past with its curious appearance and dependence on its environment. It is also an opportunistic eater that takes advantage of what it can find in its environment. That trait may be its life-saving grace as it faces the threats of habitat encroachment and extinction.
Featured Image Credit: John Carnemolia, Shutterstock
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).