Sydney Zoo Plays Platypus Matchmaker

Stephanie Peatling in Sydney, Australia
for National Geographic News
January 24, 2005

The pride of Sydney's Taronga Zoo, platypus twin girls named Samantha and Binari, find themselves in the same situation of which many Sydney women complain: Try as they might, neither twin can find a good male with which to settle down and have babies.

The puggles, as baby platypuses are called, were born amid much excitement in October 2002. It was only the second time the duck-billed, web-foot mammal had been successfully bred in captivity.

For 20 years attempts at breeding platypuses in captivity had gone astray, for reasons that may sound familiar: The conditions weren't right; the participants didn't get on; or one platypus just wasn't in the mood.

But now the zoo is entering the world of platypus matchmaking as it prepares to try to breed a second-generation platypus in captivity.

Healesville Sanctuary, near Melbourne, has three testosterone-filled male platypuses looking for love but without anyone to give it to.

Taronga Zoo staff plan to send one of its female platypuses, probably Binari, to Healesville in return for a strapping young male named Mac sometime before July.

Margaret Hawkins, a behavioral biologist with the Taronga Zoo, said the "very particular" creatures will be swapped ahead of the breeding season to give them time to adjust.

"Although these animals are probably too young to breed, we want to start the acclimatization process, because we want the animals to get used to each other while we learn about them," Hawkins said.

The long time it took to breed the girls taught Taronga's staff that platypuses are extremely fussy about where they nest and what materials they use.

The female breeding cycle is very short. If conditions are not exactly right on the first attempt, it can be another year before a female platypus is ready to mate again.

Fish, Animal, or Bird?

It is not an exaggeration to say the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is Australia's most curious creature.

Continued on Next Page >>


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