A platypus seems more like a Tim Burton creation than a real species. It’s part patchwork quilt and part MadLib abomination. In fact, National Geographic says the scientists that first examined platypi specimens thought they were a hoax. After all, they’ve got a duck bill, webbed feet, a beaver tail and the body of an otter. If that wasn’t enough, they’re the only mammal aside from echidnas which lay eggs and use electroreception, meaning they can sense natural electrical stimuli — a skill almost exclusively reserved for fish and amphibians. Unsurprisingly, this evolutionary wallflower hails from Australia.
But wait! There’s more. Males are venomous, with sharp stingers on the heels of their rear feet which have been known to be fatal to dogs, according to HowStuffWorks. As far as humans go, there have been no known fatalities, but you absolutely don’t want to be on the receiving end of a platypus sting.
Like everything about this genomic scrapbook, platypi venom is unique. According to NewScientist, it’s not designed to paralyze or kill victims, just cause swelling and intense, long lasting pain, which is exactly what you’ll feel if you try to break yourself off a piece of the ‘pi. Sometimes, the effects of a sting can last for weeks, but humans don’t need to worry so long as they keep their distance, because the venom is believed to be reserved for other males to help with competition in mating. To quote Albus Dumbledore: “Oh, to be young and feel love’s keen [platypi-like] sting.”
Like everything about a platypus, its venom is unique
When researchers tested the effects of a toxin found in platypus venom on the neurons of lab mice, they found that the protein would bind to a channel in the membranes of their neurons, allowing positive ions to enter and leave the cells. Apparently, these channels are also activated when we feel pain. In other words, the toxin is basically pure pain, and totally unique in the world of venomous creatures, leading scientists to believe that this unique venom may hold keys to developing new, better painkillers.
So while a sting from a platypus might make you feel like you’re dying, you should recover pretty quickly, and hopefully with a newfound respect for one of nature’s most bizarre creations.
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