Sunday, November 10, 2013

Obdurodon: Prehistoric Animal of the Week

The past few weeks have revealed a lot of new information in the field of paleontology!  First, the worlds largest known species of platypus was discovered in Australia and then a new tyrannosaur was found in Utah!  It seems my facebook newsfeed has been blowing up with posts about this new tyrannosaur named Lythronax.  I, however, would like to check out this giant prehistoric platypus first!  Enter Obdurodon tharalkooschild!

I'm proud of this meme I made.

Obdurodon lived in what is now Queensland, Australia between 5 and 15 million years ago during the Miocene era.  Despite the fact that it is known from only a fossilized tooth, scientists estimate (based on the size of the tooth) that the whole animal would have been about three feet long.  This is more than double the size of a modern platypus. 

Obdurodon tharalkooschild by Christopher DiPiazza

Now you may be thinking "Wait...just one tooth?  How the heck do we know what it was if all we have is a tooth!  I thought platypuses didn't have teeth!"  Well, this tooth is what makes Obdurodon special; it had teeth!  Scientists could tell that this single tooth was from a large platypus because it looks like the teeth of modern platypuses, which are very distinct.  Yes, modern platypuses do have teeth as well, they just loose them before they reach adulthood (like the opposite of us!).  This is also the reason for its genus name, which translates to "permanent tooth".  The species name, ,tharalkooschild, is in reference to a duck from ancient Australian mythology, named Tharalkoos.  Tharalkoos got it on with a rat and then gave birth to the first platypus.  Mythology is weird.

Tooth found from Obdurodon tharalkooschild.

Obdurodon would have been one of the largest animals in it's ecosystem.  Like its modern-day relatives, it was likely a predator, using its unique ability to sense electric fields generated by muscle movements in other animals thanks to tiny structures located at the base of its bill.  It also may have been venomous, like modern platypuses, which posses venomous barbs on each of their back feet.  These weapons are only present in male platypuses.  Also, just to clarify, platypuses are indeed mammals, despite the fact that they lay eggs.  They produce milk with mammary glands which oozes through the mother's skin from the inside to be lapped up by the babies (since platypuses don't  have nipples).

Perry might be an Obdurodon!  Look at the teeth!
The discovery of this species is important because it tells us that the evolution of the platypus was not linear.  This is because there are other species of fossil platypus known from the same time period as Obdurodon tharalkooschild.  There are a total of five fossil platypus known, all of were found in either Australia or South America.

That's it for this week!  Join us next week as we take a look at (spoiler) that new Tyrannosaur from Utah!  As always feel leave a comment below or on our facebook page

Works Cited

Pascual, et al. "First discovery of monotremes in South America". Nature 356 (1992), Pages 704-706 (Monotrematum).

Pian R et al. 2013. A new, giant platypus, Obdurodon tharalkooschild, sp. nov. (Monotremata, Ornithorhynchidae), from the Riversleigh World Heritage Area, Australia. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 33 (6)

 Proske, Uwe; Gregory, J. E.; Iggo, A. (1998). "Sensory receptors in monotremes". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 353 (1372): 1187–98. doi:10.1098/rstb.1998.0275. PMC 1692308.

Australian Fauna". Australian Fauna. Retrieved 14-05-2010.


  1. The suggestion that Perry is actually an Obdurodon makes this the best thing since... the last thing I described as "the best thing".

  2. Looking at this , and looking at the new Mammals to be released from Geoworld, I Have a new request. Procoptodon