A duck bill, webbed feet, beaver tail, poisonous spurs, and egg-laying – all perfect ingredients for a 6 year-old’s diabolical creature creation. However, this animal really does exist in nature – the platypus. This chimeric animal has been the subject of scientific studies for many years. Due to its unique characteristics and nocturnal nature, much is still not known about the platypus. One thing that scientists thought they had known about this mysterious animal, though, was its evolutionary history. Fossil records had indicated that the platypus had one of the most linear evolutionary trajectories of any animal, with the platypus slowly evolving to become smaller and toothless, resulting in today’s modern platypus.
A recent discovery at the University of New South Wales in Australia, however, has cast doubt on the evolution of the platypus. Columbia University PhD candidate Rebecca Pian was digging through fossil remains found in the Riversleigh region of northeastern Queensland when she came across a platypus molar that seemed to be larger than any other platypus molar she had seen. After studying the tooth, Pian and UNSW Professor Mike Archer concluded that it must have belonged to a platypus measuring about 3 feet in length, twice as big as any other platypus scientists have discovered.
“lt pretty well blew our minds,” stated Professor Archer. Sedimentary rocks at the site where the fossil was found date the platypus to be approximately 5 to 15 million years old. This dating is extremely important because it means that the Obdurodon tharalkooschild (Godzilla platypus) lived at the same time as the Obdurodon dicksoni, creating a disturbance in the evolutionary timeline of the platypus: “Discovery of this new species was a shock to us because prior to this, the fossil record suggested that the evolutionary tree of platypuses was a relatively linear one. Now we realize that there were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which became gigantic,” reported Professor Archer.
With the newly discovered information concerning its evolutionary history, aborigines might want to rethink their origin myth of the platypus. The “Godzilla” platypus’s scientific name, Obdurodon tharalkooschild, pays respect to both Greek and Australian cultures. Obdurodon means “lasting (obdurate) tooth” in Greek, and tharalkooschild pays homage to the Australian creation myth. According to aborigines, the platypus was created due to the actions of an obstinate female duck, named Tharalkoo, who swam downstream despite her parents’ warnings. When the duck arrived downstream, she was ravished by Bigoon, a river-rat. When the duck came back home and laid her eggs, a platypus was born.
Instead of a rat, perhaps the aborigines should think larger. Maybe, oh…. a beaver considering the platypus has a beaver, not rat, tail. Granted, who knows what kind of rats Australia has?
[Image via Wikimedia Commons]