Changing Ideas in Science – The Platypus Enigma
The platypus is a mammal that has many features that separates it from other mammals - it lays eggs, there is an absence of true teeth and mammary glands. It also has fur like other mammals, but has a beak similar to the bill of a duck, webbed feet and a tail like a beaver.
The platypus is a very curious creature to the scientific community and has created debate to where it is a mammal and how it should be classified. During the past 200 years, scientists have been interested and have had changing ideas about the platypus.
In 1978 the first specimen on platypus was sent to Britain and British naturalist George Shaw, studied the platypus and suspected that the specimen he had studied was a hoax. Scientists at that time thought that someone had stitched together parts from various animals to create this one creature. However, close and detail examination showed that the specimen was indeed real.
After it was established that the platypus was real, scientist were now faced with the problem of placing it into a classification group. They didn't know whether it was a mammal because of its fur, a reptile because of its webbed feet or a duck because it had a duck-like bill. From 1800-1830s it was classified as all three groups.
In 1836, while visiting Australia on the HMS Beagle, Charles Darwin observed the platypus and questioned whether it might have two creators. This contributed to his idea of evolution.
Until 1884, the reproductive method of the platypus was unknown. In 1883 William Caldwell arrived in Australia and spent his time studying the platypus. With the help of the Aboriginal people, Caldwell discovered an egg-laying female platypus. The platypus’ reproductive structures are very much like reptiles.
In 1904 the Scientific American reported that some mammals do not possess teeth when adults. This meant that the platypus might be a mammal.
Until 1973, it was thought that platypuses could not regulate...