18th Sep

Platypus in Bangalow

In the deep shadow in the bend of the creek a small swirl barely disturbs the surface but the aware watcher is instantly alert. The larger spreading ring and ripple that follows and the tell-tale arched back of a dark-coloured furry animal says “platypus”. They are usually only seen in very early morning or late evening. To see them you need to be patient and quiet. And don’t try to pick one up, as the males have spurs on their back legs with some serious venom that will cause excruciating pain.

They thrive in the quiet waters sliding down through the valleys, making their way from pool to pool across little rapids, the females setting up home in burrows at breeding time. Byron Creek is almost ideal for them. Highly regarded ecologist Dr. David Rohweder says research indicates the basalt soils of our area provide the right conditions, in association with riparian forest. Good populations of platypus are found where water quality is reasonable, food supplies are abundant, and where the creek banks are vegetated so they can dig stable burrows.

All adults platypus have burrows, either for breeding or shelter, in which they rest during the day. They feed most of the night, using sensory electro-receptors in the flat bill. They close their eyes, nostrils and ears when diving.

Platypus feed on the bottom life of the creek, particularly prawns and small yabbies, worms and snails. They also like lots of invertebrates such as water beetles and dragonflies – the kind of friendly critters the new Bangalow Park wetland will be producing in good numbers.

They breed once per year. Females lay eggs in burrow nests of leaves. The Bangalow Park wetland will have lots of suitable water plants with the kind of leaves they like. They produce milk and feed the young ones for most of the first season until the little guys move out and begin foraging on their own. There is no evidence of them forming families or groups and they seem to be fairly solitary except when mating.

Platypuses are often caught and die in yabbie traps, and these traps should not be used in any creek.

A biologist once called the platypus “the animal of all time”. In colonial days they were fascinated by this shy and intriguing critter. In the fashion of the day many thousands were shot for their fur. Some were taken to England to prove such an oddity really existed.

They seem to have adapted to the mildly polluted conditions of our creeks. Sediment and nutrient concentrations in the modern era are elevated, but we don’t usually see severe pollution such as bad algal blooms except in droughts and near sewage plants. The problems in our creeks are more centred on swimming quality and the loss of fish stocks, and the currently unknown effects of chemicals. Keep an eye out for platypus around Bangalow creeks and we’ll look at them again over time. A great reference book is “Platypus” by Tom Grant.

David Pont

Sean (about the author)
Sean is a web designer from Brisbane, Australia
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