Feeds

Horrific FLESH-EATING PLATYPUS once terrorised Australia

Aboriginal tale says chimaera was result of non-consensual rat/duck tryst

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Boffins have found evidence that a giant, sharp-toothed, flesh-eating platypus once roamed the waterways of Australia.

New platypus species Obdurodon tharalkooschild, with a close-up of its tooth

The Obdurodon tharalkooschild, with a close-up of its tooth.

Credit: Peter Schouten/Rebecca Pian

The regular modern platypus is already a pretty strange beast, with a duck's bill, otter's fur and beaver's webbed feet. It lays eggs rather than giving birth to live young, its bill is covered in electroreceptors that sense its prey underwater and the male of the species has a venomous spur on its hind foot.

This strange mixture of features and the fossil record up till now has led scientists to believe that the platypus lineage is unique, with only one type of the species living on Earth at any one time. Now, however, paleoboffins have found a single tooth that indicates an entirely new branch of the platypus family tree.

"Monotremes (platypuses and echidnas) are the last remnant of an ancient radiation of mammals unique to the southern continents. A new platypus species, even one that is highly incomplete, is a very important aid in developing understanding about these fascinating mammals," said PhD candidate Rebecca Pian, lead author of the study.

The new species, named Obdurodon tharalkooschild*, would have been over three feet long, twice the size of the modern platypus, and had the necessary sharp teeth to eat not just crayfish and other small crustaceans, but frogs and small turtles as well.

"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 relatively linear one," said Dr. Michael Archer of the University of New South Wales, a co-author of the study. "Now we realise that there were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which became gigantic."

The oldest platypus fossils found so far come from 61 million years ago and later fossils have shown the platypus losing its teeth over time before the modern beast, which has horny pads in its mouth instead of teeth as an adult. This fossil is likely to be between 15 and 5 million years old and had well-developed teeth.

The full study was published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. ®

Bootnote

* The first part of the new species' name, Obdurodon, comes from the Greek for "lasting tooth" to distinguish this branch from the modern toothless variety of platypus.

The second part of the name comes from an Indigenous Australian creation myth about the origin of the platypus. According to the story, in the Dreamtime, Tharalkoo was a headstrong female duck who disobeyed her parents' warnings not to swim downriver where Bigoon the water-rat could catch her and have his wicked way with her. Like anyone who disobeys their parents in a fairy story, things turn out exactly as they said they would and Tharalkoo is ravished by Bigoon. When she returns home, the other female ducks are all laying eggs, so she does the same. But instead of a baby duckling, Tharalkoo's child is a chimera with the bill and webbed hind feet of a duck and the fur and front feet of a rodent - a platypus.

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
LOHAN tunes into ultra long range radio
And verily, Vultures shall speak status unto distant receivers
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.