"Platypus Zilla": Largest, Meat-Eating Platypus Discovered--Evolutionary Breakthrough

  • Nov, 05, 2013, 11:41 AM
Australian native platypus
(Photo : reuters) An Australian native platypus is seen in this May 15, 2002 handout photograph made available on May 7, 2008. Australia's unique duck-billed platypus -- an egg-laying, furry animal with web feet that spends most of its time underwater -- is in fact part bird, part reptile and part mammal according to its gene map. A team of international scientists released the platypus genome on Thursday, saying its complex sequence will aid the study of human evolution -- particularly the development of the immune, nervous and reproductive systems.

Scientists discovered and identified an extinct species of giant platypus about a meter in length, which had teeth strong enough to crush turtles.

Biologists found a tooth-a lower molar-at a renowned fossil site in Queensland's gulf country and identified that the tooth belonged to a previously unknown species of platypus.

"It would have been one of the biggest animals by far in those ancient waterways," Mike Archer, palaeontologist University of NSW told The Sydney Morning Herald.

"Only crocodiles would have been bigger. Everything else would have thought twice about going for a swim with this platypus-zilla."

The new species is thought to have lived between five and 15 million years ago. UNSW honors student Rebecca Pian identified its tooth last year, in a limestone sample excavated two years earlier from Riversleigh. Professor Archer, co-author of a report published today in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaentology was very sure that the tooth belonged to a platypus because of its W-like shape and "stumpy roots".

"It's absolutely distinctive for all the fossil platypuses we've seen from Patagonia to Central Australia to Riversleigh and now to this new thing," he said.

The new find blows the view that platypus evolved in a linear pattern with only one species existing at a time. "There were unanticipated side branches on this (evolutionary) tree, some of which became gigantic," Professor Archer said, indicating that there are branches in the platypus family tree that scientists had not noticed before.

Several platypus species of platypus once lived in parts of central and northern Australia and in South America.  "If you take a long view, the platypus is a story of long-term declines in kind and geographic area," he said.



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