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First platypus survives at Museum

17 May 2005

Duck-billed platypus

Duck-billed platypus

More than 200 years ago the Natural History Museum received the first ever specimen of a platypus, sent from Australia by European settlers.

The unusual-looking creature surprised and confused scientists who saw it at this time and some even thought it was a fake.

The specimen, however, was real and was used to write the first scientific descritopn of the species. This is known as a type specimen or the holotype .

The Museum has more than 850,000 type specimens . Scientists from around the world refer to them whenever a species needs to be researched.

This original specimen survives at the Museum today. It is looked after behind-the-scenes in conditions that protect it from decaying.

A monotreme

The platypus, Ornithorhynchus anatinus , is a type of mammal called a monotreme that lays eggs instead of living young. The webbed-footed duck-billed platypus lives in the waterways of southern and eastern Australia and Tasmania.

Mix of reptile and mammal characteristics

This enigmatic animal has an unusual mix of characteristics, some like reptiles such as laying eggs, and some like mammals, such as producing milk for its young. And some are unique to the platypus, for example the spurs on its hing legs that it uses to stab venom into an attacker.