The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Shrew
Story Of The Tenrec
Story Of The Rabbit
Story Of The Chamois
Story Of The Duckbill
Story Of The Peccary
Story Of The Linsang
Story Of The Aard-vark
Story Of The Gorilla
Story Of The Weasel
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Story Of The Duckbill
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The duckbilled platypus is one of the most remarkable animals I have ever seen. Australia, where everything seems to be reversed, where the north wind is warm and the south wind cold, the thick end of the pear is next the stem, and the stone of a cherry grows outside, is the residence of this most extraordinary animal. When it was first introduced into Europe, it was fully believed to be the manufacture of some impostor, who with much ingenuity had fixed the beak of a duck into the head of some unknown animal. It will, however, be seen by the skull of the animal, that this duck-like beak really belongs to the animal, and is caused by a prolongation of some of the bones of the head.
In length the adult male duckbill measures from 18 to 20 inches from the tip of the beak to the end of the rather short tail. The muzzle is expanded and flattened, and has both the upper and lower jaws invested with a blackish naked beak not unlike that of a duck. This beak is bordered by a naked sensitive skin, forming a fold at the base of the snout, the nostrils being situated near its front end. The body is covered with short, close, and some-what mole-like fur, including both longer hairs and a woolly under-fur; its usual color being deep brown, becoming paler underneath. The tail is broad and flattened, and_ has a coat of coarse hairs, which on the under side are usually worn off by old individuals. The tongue is small, and the cheeks are provided with pouches for storing food. On the heel of the male is a long horny spur an inch long, curving upward and backward. In this spur is a canal connected with a gland on the leg which secretes a poisonous fluid.
The duckbill is restricted to Southern and Eastern Australia and Tasmania, where it is fairly common in places suited to its habits. Thoroughly aquatic in their habits, and exclusively frequenting fresh waters, duckbills are remarkably shy creatures, and rarely seen, except at evening, when they come up to the top of the water, and look like so many black bottles floating on the surface sinking down immediately if alarmed. By quietly watching the stream in the evening they may be easily shot, and they will readily take a bait on a hook. Although mingling together when in the water, these animals live in pairs in the burrows constructed in the banks; their favorite haunts being where the streams expand into wide, still pools. In the banks of such out of the way spots are constructed their burrows ; each of which usually has one entrance opening beneath the water, and another above the water-level, hidden among the herbage growing on the bank. The burrow runs obliquely upwards from the water to a great distance sometimes as much as fifty feet into the bank; and ends in a chamber, lined with grass and other substances, where the young are produced.
Two eggs are laici at a time, enclosed in a strong, flexible, white shell, measuring about three-quarters of an inch in length, and two-thirds of that in diameter. They resemble the eggs of birds in the large size of their yolk, of which only a small portion goes to the formation of the embryo, while the remainder serves for its food. When first hatched, the young are blind and naked, with the beak very short, and its margins smooth and fleshy, thus forming a nearly circular mouth, well fitted to receive the milk ejected from the glands of the mother. The duckbill feeds on various small water animals, such as insects, shell fish and worms, which it obtains by probing with its beak in the mud and sand near the banks; the food being first stored in the large cheek-pouches, and afterwards devoured at leisure. The large front paws are the chief agents in swimming and diving. On land these creatures move somewhat awkwardly, in a shuffling manner; and when reposing in their nests curl themselves up in a ball-like fashion. The natives capture the duckbill, by digging holes with sticks into the burrow from the ground above at distances from one another, until they light upon the terminal chamber.