Jul
08
2007

We are one step closer to understanding "The Aussie Nightmare"

The Platypus: It's watching you. Waiting for you to slip up.
The Platypus: It's watching you. Waiting for you to slip up.
The platypus, also known as “Wait… what?,” bears the distinction of being one of the very few poisonous mammals. The list also includes several types of shrew, the solendon, the slow loris (the elbows of which secrete a toxin which smells like sweaty socks - seriously), and, of course, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, who put M & M in the hospital for two weeks after delivering a bite just above the left knee.

Both male and female platypoda (check it out, it works) possess a large claw, or spur, on their hind legs. However, only the spurs of the males are venomous. The poison is only produced during mating season, and it is used to defend against predators, and to compete with other males for mates. A strike from a poisonous spur is not enough to kill an animal the size of a human, but victims often suffer incapacitating pain that can last for days or even months. And there is currently no antivenin available for platypus poison.

By studying the evolution of platypus venom, scientists think they can come closer to creating an effective treatment for it. Sequencing of the platypus venom genes shows that the poison evolved from by the “duplication from genes that were once involved in the immune system.” The venom, they have found, contains “defensin”-like proteins. “Defensin” proteins exist in the immune system of the platypus, and are produced as an antibiotic in the milk of some other marsupials.

The hope is that, by knowing the exact toxins involved, scientists can then find which proteins are associated with pain sensation in the victim. Drugs might then be found that could interfere with the venom’s interaction with these proteins.

Not content with simply developing a defense against the platypoda, scientists are also considering how to best develop an active offense against the poisoners – a sort of marsupial preemptive strike. Various methods, ranging from space based high-energy lasers to country-wide “roast” like events (designed to humiliate the platypoda), have been considered. Scientists warn, however, that the implementation of such ideas is still several years off, at least.

The Claw of the Platypus!

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Gene's picture
Gene says:

I visited Australia in 1995. I figured, any country that could produce both the platypus AND Olivia Newton-John was worth checking out.

Oh, and platypuses are monotremes, not marsupials.

(And it is "platypuses" in English. Though, if you run into any ancient Greeks, please, feel free to use "platypoda." And "agendum." And "stadia." They will appreciate the effort.)

posted on Tue, 07/10/2007 - 12:42pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Monotreme! Monotreme! Of course! I knew that. Eggs, not pouches!
I take it back. The whole post. It's all made up, anyway.

Olivia Newton-John? Seriously? I never would have guessed! I got chills.

And, as far as "platypoda" goes, it was, in fact, an ancient Greek who told me how to say it. His name is Anatole Apostolos Papadopoulos, and he is 97 years old. I go to him for all my science related questions.

posted on Wed, 07/11/2007 - 12:42pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

"Olivia Newton-John? Seriously? I never would have guessed! I got chills."

If you were 14 years old in 1974, you'd understand.

posted on Wed, 07/11/2007 - 1:34pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

platypi are awesome sick animals... they rock! Dont ever pay them out. Ride on the platy!

posted on Thu, 08/02/2007 - 7:19pm
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

Um... is this just a chat room at the science museum, because if it is... Well that is just awesome! I saw that someone had written about the awesomeness of Platypusses ( or Platypi ) and i just want people to be aware of the awesomeness of the bottlenose dolphin!They are not only extremely intelligent but extremely cute as well!!! THAT, is like an Animal Kingdom double threat! I am aware that my little blog hasn't any scientific merit, but seriously... Don't we just love our dolphins

posted on Fri, 08/03/2007 - 10:38am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

I THINK MAYBE THE NSF CAN PAY A REAL SCIENTIST TO WRITE THESE PAGES.

posted on Wed, 08/15/2007 - 11:36pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

The purpose of these pages is to give non-scientists a forum to debate and discuss scientific issues. The article contains a link to a scientific source of information on the topic.

posted on Thu, 08/16/2007 - 9:37am
Anonymous's picture
Anonymous says:

There are TWO acceptable plurals for 'platypus' -- if you want to be pedantic, use the Greek plural 'platypodes' (not 'platypi', which would be Latin and so wrong on a Greek-derived name), or platypuses. One NEVER says 'platypoda'.

posted on Thu, 09/06/2007 - 1:27am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "platypus" is in fact a Latin word (new Latin, to be precise), with roots in Greek. "Platypoda" is the scientific name for the sub-order of monotremes which includes the platypus.

Given that we are writing in English, though, "platypuses" would be the correct plural.

posted on Thu, 09/06/2007 - 8:35am
bryan kennedy's picture

C'mon couldn't we just shorten it to what all of us really say when were hangin' roun' on the street corner? "Dang, man look at all those Plats!"

posted on Thu, 09/06/2007 - 12:30pm
shanai's picture
shanai says:

Seeing as the platypus is my power animal, I felt I should comment: Two big thumbs up for J Gordon and all the other "not real scientists" who post here!

My only concern is that debating the proper plural of platypus in a public forum will encourage these fierce and funky beasts (who probably read science buzz) to congregate in larger and larger numbers. Be careful, that's all I'm sayin.

posted on Thu, 09/06/2007 - 12:50pm

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <h3> <h4> <em> <i> <strong> <b> <span> <ul> <ol> <li> <blockquote> <object> <embed> <param> <sub> <sup>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may embed videos from the following providers vimeo, youtube. Just add the video URL to your textarea in the place where you would like the video to appear, i.e. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0jmvdh.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options