Giant platypus fossil discovery in Australia


This November 2013 video is about the fossil of the largest platypus, discovered in Australia.

From Wildlife Extra:

Giant extinct toothed platypus discovered

A fossil of a prehistoric giant toothed platypus discovered in Australia

November 2013: A giant carnivorous platypus with razor sharp teeth once roamed the Riversleigh World Heritage Area in Queensland, Australia, researchers from the University of New South Wales have discovered. Named Obdurodon tharalkooschild it is believed to have lived around 15 million years ago and was about one metre in length, twice the size of its modern day relative the peculiar looking, egg-laying, otter footed, beaver tailed duck-billed platypus. And unlike today’s relation it had functional, sharp teeth, which were used to slice and chew crayfish, frogs and small turtles.

The discovery of the new species’ tooth in a limestone deposit was made by Rebecca Pian, a PhD candidate at Columbia University and former UNSW Honours student, and Professor Mike Archer and Associate Professor Suzanne Hand, of the UNSW School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences.

“A new platypus species, even one that is highly incomplete, is a very important aid in developing understanding about these fascinating mammals,” says Rebecca Pian.

It is believed that, like other platypuses, it was probably a mostly aquatic mammal, and would have lived in and around the freshwater pools in the forests that covered the Riversleigh area millions of years ago.

“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,” says Mike Archer. “Now we realize that there were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which became gigantic.”

The name Obdurodon tharalkooschild derives from the Greek for “lasting tooth” and an Australian folk story about the genus’ origin that features a strong-willed female duck who ignored her parents’ warnings and was set upon by Bigoon, a water-rat, leading to unusual-looking offspring.

See also here. And here.

The scientific description of this new species is here.

‘Extinct’ Australian echidna still living?


This video from Australia says about itself:

19 Oct 2010

Taronga has recently moved one of its two Long-beaked Echidnas into the Australian Nightlife nocturnal exhibit creating a world first for the zoo. This means that Taronga is now the only place in the world where people can see all three [?] species of monotreme together. A monotreme is actually a rare family of mammals unique to Australia, which lay eggs. They include the Platypus, the Long-beaked Echidna and the Short-beaked Echidna.

From Wildlife Extra:

Long-beaked echidna, thought extinct in Australia since Ice Age, may still cling on in Kimberley

Scientists discover Australian long-beaked echidna in London’s Natural History Museum

January 2013. The western long-beaked echidna, one of the world’s five egg-laying species of mammal, became extinct in Australia thousands of years ago…or did it? Smithsonian scientists and colleagues have found evidence suggesting that not only did these animals survive in Australia far longer than previously thought, but that they may very well still exist in parts of the country today.

Small, Critically Endangered, population survives on New Guinea

With a small and declining population confined to the Indonesian portion of the island of New Guinea, the western long-beaked echidna (Zaglossus bruijnii) is listed as “Critically Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species.

Considered extinct in Australia since Ice Age – but……………

It is also considered extinct in Australia, where fossil remains from the Pleistocene epoch demonstrate that it did occur there tens of thousands of years ago. Ancient Aboriginal rock art also supports the species’ former presence in Australia. However, no modern record from Australia was known to exist until scientists took a closer look at one particular specimen stored in cabinets in the collections of the Natural History Museum in London. Previously overlooked, the specimen’s information showed that it was collected from the wild in north-western Australia in 1901-thousands of years after they were thought to have gone extinct there.

“Sometimes while working in museums, I find specimens that turn out to be previously undocumented species,” said Kristofer Helgen of the Smithsonian Institution, the lead author and the scientist to first report the significance of the echidna specimen. “But in many ways, finding a specimen like this, of such an iconic animal, with such clear documentation from such an unexpected place, is even more exciting.”

Egg-laying mammals

Long-beaked echidnas are known as monotremes-a small and primitive order of mammals that lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. The platypus, the short-beaked echidna, and the three species of long-beaked echidna (Western, Eastern and Sir David Attenborough’s) are the only monotremes that still exist. The platypus is found only in eastern Australia, the short-beaked echidna is found in Australia and New Guinea, and the long-beaked echidnas were previously known as living animals only from the island of New Guinea. Long-beaked echidnas, which grow to twice the size of the platypus or the short-beaked echidna, are beach-ball sized mammals covered in coarse blackish-brown hair and spines. They use their long, tubular snout to root for invertebrates in the forests and meadows of New Guinea. Among many peculiar attributes, reproduction is one of the most unique-females lay a single leathery egg directly into their pouch where it hatches in about 10 days.

Found in Kimberley in 1901

The re-examined specimen in London reveals that the species was reproducing in Australia at least until the early 20th century. It was collected in the West Kimberley region of Western Australia by naturalist John T. Tunney in 1901, on a collecting expedition for the private museum of Lord L. Walter Rothschild in England. Despite collecting many species of butterflies, birds and mammals (some new to science at the time), no full report on his specimens has ever been published. The collection, including the long-beaked echidna specimen, was then transferred to the Natural History Museum in London in 1939 after Rothschild’s death. It was another 70 years before Helgen visited the museum in London and came across the specimen with the original Tunney labels, which both challenged previous thinking about the species’ recent distribution and offered insight into where it may still occur.

“The discovery of the western long-beaked echidna in Australia is astonishing,” said Professor Tim Flannery of Macquarie University in Sydney, referring to the new study. “It highlights the importance of museum collections, and how much there is still to learn about Australia’s fauna.”

Search for live animals

Learning whether the western long-beaked echidna still exists in Australia today will take time. “The next step will be an expedition to search for this animal,” Helgen said. “We’ll need to look carefully in the right habitats to determine where it held on, and for how long, and if any are still out there.” To find it, Helgen hopes to draw on his experience with the species in New Guinea and to interview those who know the northern Australian bush best. “We believe there may be memories of this animal among Aboriginal communities, and we’d like to learn as much about that as we can,” he said.

With the species in danger of extinction, finding Australian survivors or understanding why and when they vanished is an important scientific goal. “We hold out hope that somewhere in Australia, long-beaked echidnas still lay their eggs,” said Helgen.

The team’s findings are published in the Dec. 28, 2012 issue of the journal ZooKeys.

One should hope that Big Oil and Big Mining, which threaten dinosaur tracks in the Kimberley region, will not also threaten western long-beaked echidnas, if they survive there.

Long-beaked echidna research


Zaglossus bartoni

From the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Wildlife Conservation Society supports world’s first study of egg-laying mammal

Study on Papua New Guinea‘s long-beaked echidna reveals elusive habits

A Wildlife Conservation Society research intern working in the wilds of Papua New Guinea has successfully completed what many other field biologists considered “mission impossible”—the first study of a rare egg-laying mammal called the long-beaked echidna.

The WCS-supported study—which consisted of thousands of hours of grueling field work in Papua New Guinea’s Crater Mountain Wildlife Management Area—took Muse D. Opiang, now of the Papua New Guinea Institute of Biological Research, several years of remotely tracking the porcupine-sized mammals and recording their dens and other signs.

The study, published in a recent of the Journal of Mammalogy, chronicles the first solid data on the animal’s nocturnal foraging behaviors, movement patterns, and home-range sizes for the species.

The long-beaked echidna is found only in New Guinea and is a member of the monotremes, a primitive order of mammals that forced zoologists to change their very definitions of what a mammal is. Unlike all other mammals, monotremes like the echidna (also called the spiny anteater) and the better known platypus lay eggs.

“All of the time and effort invested in the study has paid off with new insights into the natural history of this seldom seen and unusual mammal,” said Opiang. “These findings will help inform conservation strategies for the species, which is threatened by hunting and habitat loss.”

The nocturnal, subterranean lifestyle of the species represented a real challenge for field research, with some experts declaring the species impossible to study. And it did take some time – nearly 6,000 man-hours of field work between 2001-2005. Opiang spent 500 hours in the field before locating his first animal.

In the end, Opiang managed to capture 22 individual echidnas (15 adults and 7 juveniles), and affixed radio transmitters to 9 adults and 3 juveniles. Because this was the first study of the unusual species, Opiang had to develop methods by trial and error. Initially, transmitters were attached to spines, but the constant burrowing and digging of the echidnas resulted in transmitters falling off. The ankle proved to be a more reliable placement point. Home ranges for the tracked echidnas averaged 39 hectares (96 acres).

The study located over 200 den sites, most of which were underground, while others were found in cliff faces and in thick vegetation. One lactating female was found. Other signs recorded in the study were nose-pokes (when the echidna pokes its tube-like snout in the soil in search of invertebrate prey) and digs (deeper holes excavated with the echidna’s long claws).

“The limited information on the long-beaked echidna’s biology, feeding behavior and ecology has prevented conservationists from formulating plans for protecting this elusive and threatened animal,” said Dr. Ross Sinclair, Director of WCS’s Papua New Guinea program. “The research methods developed by Opiang and the data he gathered can now help us to manage and protect this rare and species.”

About long-beaked echidnas

* Echidnas are members of the monotremes, an order of mammals that lay leathery eggs, as opposed to placental and marsupial mammals, both groups of which give birth to live young.
* Echidnas resemble anteaters with long course hairs and spines. They are powerful diggers and possess short legs with long claws.
* The snout of the echidna ends in a tiny mouth with no teeth.
* Long-beaked echidnas feed on insect larvae, worms, and other invertebrates (whereas short-beaked echidnas prefer ants and termites).
* Echidnas and platypuses are more reptile-like than other mammals, with features such as: a more sprawling gait; and a single opening for depositing waste and facilitating reproduction (known as a cloaca, as in both birds and reptiles).
* Echidnas (both long- and short-beaked) lay a single egg, which the female holds in a sticky pouch. The hatchling (known as a “puggle”) resides in the pouch for between 40-50 days and receives milk from two mammary patches (echidnas have no teats).
* Once the puggle develops spines, the mother digs a nursery den that becomes the puggle’s new home; the mother returns every five days to nurse the puggle. The baby is weaned in seven months.

This new study is about the eastern long-beaked echidna.

FREQUENCY OF BREEDING AND RECRUITMENT IN THE SHORT-BEAKED ECHIDNA, TACHYGLOSSUS ACULEATUS: here.

One of Australia’s most unusual animals, the platypus, is being put at risk by yabby traps: here.

SYDNEY: New research suggests that the echidna may have evolved from a platypus-like animal, sometime in the last 30 millions years ago. The discovery may explain a confusing lack of echidnas in the fossil record.

Lucy Cooke: World’s weirdest penis belongs to the echidna (GRAPHIC PHOTO): here.

New insights into the biology of the platypus and echidna have been published, providing a collection of unique research data about the world’s only monotremes: here.

Extreme Monotremes: Why Do Egg-Laying Mammals Still Exist? Here.

Unlocking the mystery of the duck-billed platypus’ venom: here.

The first results from a comprehensive study of the health and abundance of the platypus population in the Murrumbidgee catchment in eastern Australia show that despite a tough environment, platypuses continue to survive: here.

Island Platypuses Face Risky Future. The iconic Australian animal is in danger of being wiped out due to lack of genetic diversity: here.

Platypus lived with dinosaurs


This video is called Probing Platypus Evolution.

From National Geographic:

Platypus Much Older Than Thought, Lived with Dinos

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News

January 22, 2008

Australia’s duck-billed platypus has been around much longer than previously thought, according to a new fossil study that found the egg-laying mammal’s origin traces back to the dinosaur days.

Platypuses and their closest evolutionary relatives, the four echidna species, were thought to have split from a common ancestor sometime in the past 17 million to 65 million years.

But remains of what was believed to be a distant forebear of both the platypus and the echidna—the fossil species Teinolophos—actually belong to an early platypus, according to scientists who performed an x-ray analysis of a Teinolophos jawbone.

The finding means the two animals must have separated sometime earlier than the age of the fossil—at least 112 million years ago.

Outlived the Dinos

The international team, led by Timothy Rowe, of the University of Texas in Austin, used a specially modified CT scanner to capture high-resolution images of the internal structure of a 112.5- to 122-million-year-old Teinolophos jawbone found in southeastern Australia.

The scientists found that the Teinolophos had already developed features thought to be unique to modern platypuses, including an electro-sensitive “bill” for finding aquatic prey.

“This pushes the platypus back across the K-T boundary,” Rowe said, referring to the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs about 65 million years ago.

“Now it looks like [platypuses] crossed the boundary without any problem.”

The study appears in today’s edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This video is called Evolution and the platypus.

Reintroduced platypus thriving in Melbourne suburbs: here.

Attenborough’s ‘extinct’ egg-laying mammal rediscovered in New Guinea


This video says about itself:

Monotremes seem to have branched off from placental and marsupial mammals way back on the tree of life, and possess some reptilian and avian attributes that no other mammals have.

From British daily The Independent:

Rediscovered: Attenborough’s ‘extinct’ egg-laying mammal

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Published: 16 July 2007

A species of mammal that lays eggs and suckles its young in a pouch has been rediscovered in the jungles of Papua New Guinea, nearly 50 years after it was seen for the first and last time.

Attenborough’s long-beaked echidna – which was named after Sir David Attenborough – was known only from a single museum specimen caught in 1961. Its subsequent disappearance led scientists to believe that it had become extinct.

However, a scientific expedition to the remote Cyclops Mountains has found that the endangered creature is still alive and continues to use its long, toothless beak to poke exploratory holes in the ground in its endless search for earthworms.

“We’ve not found a live one yet, but we’ve found the areas where they feed – they leave very distinctive imprints in the soil with their beaks,” said Jonathan Baillie of the Zoological Society of London, who led the expedition.

See also here.

And here.

And here.

And here.

Echidnas and ants: here.

Echidnas’ sex lives in Australia: here.

Discoveries on evolution of platypus venom


The video shows a platypus at the aquarium in Sydney, Australia.

From Cosmos magazine:

Evolution of platypus venom revealed

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

by Anya Weimann

SYDNEY: With a duck-like bill and a habit of laying eggs, the platypus is a strange mammal. Australian researchers have now uncovered the evolutionary basis of one of its most unusual features: its venom.

Both male and female platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) are born with hind leg spurs, but only males produce a cocktail of venom there, which helps them compete with other males for mates and defend themselves against predators. The venom is powerful enough to kill dogs and though it is not fatal to humans, it can cause pain so intense that the victim is debilitated for weeks. …

The platypus venom study has come out of efforts to sequence the entire genome of the species. As the platypus is a monotreme – a primitive group that branched off early on in the mammalian tree of life – new insights on its genetic make-up could help us better understand mammalian evolution.

Earlier this year, researchers published the genome of the South American opossum (Monodelphis domestica) the first marsupial to be sequenced. Other marsupial genome projects such as the Tammar wallaby (Macropus eugenii), representing the kangaroo family, are also underway.

Platypus ancestry: here.

Eastern grey kangaroos: here.

Pygmy-possum hibernation: here.