Vital statistics

Kind Other
Country Australia and Tasmania
First documented sighting 1798
Latest documented sighting
Other names Duck-Billed Platypus

Scientific information

Recognized by science? Yes
Proposed species name Ornithorhynchus anatinus
Major investigators

Popular Culture

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The platypus is a monetreme, a strange egg-laying mammal. It was once widely considered to be a hoax.


The platypus featured in Aboriginal legends. When European naturalists first encountered this bizarre creature, they were understandably baffled. Accounts described it as a venomous, egg-laying mammal with a duck bill and beaver tail. Early colonists called the platypus a "water mole" or a “duckbill”.

Many prominent British scientists deemed it a hoax when presented with a sketch and pelt, in 1798. Even when offered a corpse, scholars suspected that it was an elaborate, sewn-together fraud.

The platypus was first scientifically described by Dr George Shaw in Britain in 1799. His initial reaction to the first specimen was that it was an elaborate hoax. It was not uncommon at the time for exotic forgeries (such as “mermaids” made by joining the body of a monkey to that of a fish) to be brought back to Europe from far-flung parts of the world.

Shaw was so convinced that the platypus specimen had been fabricated that he took a pair of scissors to the pelt, expecting to find stitches attaching the bill to the skin.

The Aboriginals knew that the platypus layed eggs and was venomous, two facts which the western world would not discover for some time.