Anyone with even a slight penchant for biology must know of this peculiar creature: The Platypus.
The Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a semi-aquatic monotreme mammal endemic to Australia. Looking at the Platypus results usually in an abandonment of evolutionary theory, since the platypus looks like a live chimera. It has a duck-like “beak”, a beaver-like tail and otter-like feet. Apparently, if it didn’t evolve as evolutionary theory predicts, it was created on the day God was drunk. There were even scientists in the early periods of the platypus’ discovery who claimed it to be an elaborate fraud!
Besides looking like a bad genetic engineering accident, the platypus lays eggs, being the single extant member of the family of monotremes, the egg-laying mammals. Egg-laying is an old relic of the mammalian reptilian history, and the platypus is a “transitional-species” in that respect. Amazingly, even though the platypus lays eggs, it also has sebaceous glands, i.e. mammary glands. However, instead of “breastfeeding” like other mammals, they simply “sweat their milk” through pores in their skin. That said, this makes the platypus a model species for evolutionary studies, and this is why I chose to write a post about it.
The duck-bill of the platypus is, by the way, not your garden variety bill. It’s actually made of flexible tissue, unlike the hardened, static avian bill, and, among other things, is used to locate prey in aquatic areas by electroreception. To make a long story short: they use their bills as an elaborate detection device, constituting a sort of really cool “sixth sense” that allows them to spot prey without seeing it. This is slightly reminiscent of certain snakes’ capability of “seeing with biological infra-red goggles”.
Evolution is, yet again, smarter than you are.