Imagine a creature with four limbs, a tail, and an immense love of swimming. The creature has brown fur, and webbed feet. “Ahah,” you think to yourself all too confidently, “It must be an otter!” However, this creature is no bigger in size than an american football, and resides exclusively in Australia. You scratch your head in confusion. Now I’ll tell you that the creature also has a bill; it is also poisonous, and lays eggs. What once may have seemed like a mammal can now no longer be, as you define mammals as giving birth to their offspring. Now you are truly perplexed! “What on earth could this duck-billed, otter-footed, beaver-tailed, water-dwelling creature be?” you mutter to yourself. With such a smorgasbord of taxonomical features, identifying and categorizing this strange creature may prove somewhat challenging.

The Ornithorhynchus Anatinus, or platypus, is in fact mammal, despite its ability to lay eggs. It is precisely these mystifying and enigmatic features that have made the platypus so worthy of the CORE Lab’s adoration. At the CORE Lab, one of our biggest research interests is categorical organization. We are particularly interested in exploring how people make categorizations about other people, animals, plants, natural phenomena, substances, etc., and how they might use those categorizations to make sense of the world around them. The platypus has become a natural symbol for dilemmas of categorical organization, as the platypus straddles the boundary between two seemingly taxonomically distinct classes. It took top scientists nearly 90 years to figure out how to categorize this strange animal; the platypus thus demonstrates that categorization is a no simple process.

As an ode to one of our favorite creatures, I have listed a few interesting facts about the platypus below:

  • Lactating female platypuses secrete milk through patches of their skin, instead of having milk-secreting teat like other mammals. Basically, platypuses (sort of) sweat milk.
  • The platypus does not have a stomach. Rather, the esophagus and small intestine merge together, with no detour through a stomach. Who needs a stomach anyway?
  • To settle the dispute once and for all, the plural of “platypus” is ~technically~ “platypodes”. However, most are unfamiliar with this term and do not use it. *Currently, the most commonly used plural form of “platypus” is “platypuses”. The pseudo-latin expression “platypi” is actually incorrect. You will see that we went with the non-technical, but actually used plural form in this post.
  • Instead of using auditory, visual, or olfactory stimuli as cues for hunting, the platypus hunts for prey using electric and mechanical signals.