The Duck-billed Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a semiaquatic mammal endemic to eastern Australia, including Tasmania. Together with the four species of echidna, it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth. It is the sole living representative of its family (Ornithorhynchidae) and genus (Ornithorhynchus), though a number of related species have been found in the fossil record.
The body and the broad, flat tail of the platypus are covered with dense, brown fur that traps a layer of insulating air to keep the animal warm. The fur is waterproof, and the texture is akin to that of a mole. The platypus uses its tail for storage of fat reserves (an adaptation also found in animals such as the Tasmanian devil and fat-tailed sheep). It has webbed feet and a large, rubbery snout; these features appear closer to those of a duck than to those of any known mammal. The webbing is more significant on the front feet and is folded back when walking on land. Unlike a bird's beak (in which the upper and lower parts separate to reveal the mouth), the snout of the platypus is a sensory organ with the mouth on the underside. The nostrils are located on the dorsal surface of the snout, while the eyes and ears are located in a groove set just back from it; this groove is closed when swimming. Platypuses have been heard to emit a low growl when disturbed and a range of other vocalizations have been reported in captive specimens.
The platypus is semiaquatic, inhabiting small streams and rivers over an extensive range from the cold highlands of Tasmania and the Australian Alps to the tropical rainforests of coastal Queensland as far north as the base of the Cape York Peninsula. Inland, its distribution is not well known; it is extinct in South Australia (apart from an introduced population on Kangaroo Island) and is no longer found in the main part of the Murray-Darling Basin, possibly due to the declining water quality brought about by extensive land clearing and irrigation schemes. Along the coastal river systems, its distribution is unpredictable; it appears to be absent from some relatively healthy rivers, and yet maintains a presence in others that are quite degraded (the lower Maribyrnong, for example).
The platypus is an excellent swimmer and spends much of its time in the water foraging for food. When swimming, it can be distinguished from other Australian mammals by the absence of visible ears. Uniquely among mammals, it propels itself when swimming by an alternate rowing motion of the front feet; although all four feet of the platypus are webbed, the hind feet (which are held against the body) do not assist in propulsion, but are used for steering in combination with the tail. The species is endothermic, maintaining its body temperature at about 32°C (90°F), lower than most mammals, even while foraging for hours in water below 5°C (41°F).