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Monotremes: Monotremata

Conservation Status

Platypus and short-nosed echidnas are protected by law in Australia. Platypus are fairly plentiful in their somewhat limited area. Short-nosed echidnas are plentiful and widespread, because they can live in many different types of biome. Long-nosed echidnas are Endangered, and under serious threat in New Guinea from loss of habitat and being hunted for food with the help of trained dogs.

FOUR WORDS

One of the shortest telegrams ever sent was the one that confirmed the fact that platypus and echidnas lay eggs instead of giving live birth. Aboriginals and white settlers had been asserting this for decades, but it seemed so improbable that zoologists insisted on proof. The Scottish zoologist William Hay Caldwell traveled to Australia in 1884 to study platypus and echidnas in the wild. Aboriginals, with their excellent tracking skills, helped by catching the animals in the wilderness and bringing them to Caldwell. When he finally did confirm that echidnas and platypus are egg-layers, he sent the following telegram, on September 2, 1884 to the British Association for the Advancement of Science, which was holding its annual meeting in Montreal: "Monotremes oviparous, ovum meroblastic." The words meant that monotremes lay eggs, and the eggs have large yolks, like birds' eggs.

Probably the most serious problem facing these animals is being hunted, killed, and eaten by carnivorous mammals introduced to Australia and New Guinea by Europeans, such as dogs, cats, rats, and foxes. Native animals prey on the monotremes as well, including some of the larger lizards and the dingo, a breed of dog that the ancestors of the Aborigines brought with them when they colonized Australia thousands of years ago.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Books:

Augee, M. L., ed. Platypus and Echidnas. Australia: Royal Zoological Society of New South Wales, 1992.

Moyal, Ann. Platypus: the Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World. Australia: Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, 2002.

Periodicals:

Pascual, Rosendo, et al. "First Discovery of Monotremes in South America." Nature 356, no. 6371 (April 1992): 704–706.

Krubitzer, L. "What Can Monotremes Tell Us About Brain Evolution?" Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Biological Sciences 353, no. 1372 (July 1998): 1127–1146.

Pettigrew, J. D., P. R. Manger, and S. L. B. Fine. "The Sensory World of the Platypus." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Biological Sciences 353, no. 1372 (July 1998): 1199–1210.

Pettigrew, J. D. "Electroreception in Monotremes." Journal of Experimental Biology 202, no. 10 (1999): 1447–1454.

Vergnani, Linda. "On the Trail of Scientific Oddballs (Peggy Rismiller Studies Echidnas)." The Chronicle of Higher Education 48, no. 11 (2001): A72.

Web sites:

Australian Platypus Conservancy. http://www.totalretail.com/platypus (accessed on June 29, 2004).

"Links for Platypus and Echidnas." Department of Anatomy & Physiology, University of Tasmania, Hobart. http://www.healthsci.utas.edu.au/medicine/research/mono/References.html (accessed on June 29, 2004).

Pelican Lagoon Research Centre (for echidnas and other animals). http://www.echidna.edu.au/index.html (accessed on June 29, 2004).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceMammalsMonotremes: Monotremata - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Monotremes And People, Conservation Status - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET