Thursday, May 08, 2008

The platypus: even stranger than we thought

It's a creature so strange the first scientists to receive specimens thought it was a work of a taxidermist rather than the Creator. The species' ancestors departed from our own around the time of the very first mammals, ca. 160 MYA. The platypus retained some of the reptilian features of the ancestors that scurried beneath the feet of the dinosaurs. Its genome has now been decoded to reveal a mix of ancient mammal, reptile, and even birdlike genes, along with some unique material developed over the eons. This genetic chop suey results in a host of odd habits, from egg-laying to electric-field sensing to the unique method of lactation: pups suck milk directly from the abdominal skin of the mother.
COMMENT: Nature, as Haldane famously said of the universe, is not only stranger than we imagine, but stranger than we can imagine.

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