Monday, September 1, 2008

Platypuses- Dangerous when wet!

When you think of a platypus, what words come to mind? I’m thinking ‘cute’, I’m thinking ‘cuddly’, I’m thinking ‘perfect pet for my toddler/niece/nephew if only they would change those darn protected species laws’. If you thought any of those things, well, think again. I’m here to tell you that the platypus has a sting in its tail.

By now you know that male platypuses have poisonous spurs on each hind leg, which they use to inject venom into victims. Envenomation occurs when the platypus wraps both hind legs around the victim, driving the spurs into the flesh several times, and injecting venom as he does so. Unfortunate humans often need help to disengage an attacking platypus, as it is able to support its full weight by its spurs. There is even a story of one eminent platypus biologist who, when trying to untangle an angry male animal from a net, ended up with the platypus hanging from either side of his trouser fly (luckily he was wearing thick trousers and wasn’t hurt!).

I say lucky because although envenomation of humans has never reported to have been fatal, the venom produces swelling and excruciating pain- and morphine is mostly ineffective at pain relief. One victim, who had previously served in the Vietnam War, described the pain of platypus envenomation as worse than his shrapnel injuries, and it lasted for several weeks. Nausea, gastric pain, cold sweats and lymph node swelling all come with the territory too.

Yeah, yeah, you say, so they’re venomous, but they’re not all that scary. I beg to differ- have a listen to the bone-chilling growl of an angry platypus here.
So, in summary: Platypuses- get them before they get you!

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