The platypus is an amazing animal – A mammal that lays eggs, produces venom and detects electricity. From the moment of its discovery, it has played a disruptive role in the narrative of evolution, and perhaps due to this rocky start, or to the lasting legacy of colonialism, most of us still know very little about the life of a platypus.
Upon ‘discovery’ by western science, the biology of the platypus and its fellow egg-laying mammal, the echidna became a touchstone for the battle around evolution. Quite unlike anything anyone in Europe had seen before, the creatures possessed a mysterious mix of features which science had previously been characterised as either mammalian, reptilian or avian. It was unclear where scientists should place them in the tree of life, and the carefully ordered taxonomical system of the day was called in to question.
This debate raged across centuries and has been characterised by a stubborn insistence that the monotremes and marsupials are somehow more primitive than the mammals of Europe and the Americas. This reputation haunts zoologist Jack Ashby, and so in this seminal book straight from the field, he describes the fauna of Australia in all their glory. Platypuses, possums, wombats, echidnas, devils, kangaroos – and many of the other Australian animals few people have ever heard of – are fascinating and worthy of knowing and protecting.