Consider the Platypus
, that curious Australian creature that seems neither fish nor reptile nor mammal, but that has characteristics seemingly borrowed from all over the animal kingdom. Charles Darwin certainly did, puzzling over the platypus in the light of the rest of the world's creatures, and remarking, "Surely two distinct Creators must have been at work."
Australian historian of science Ann Moyal offers plenty of natural-historical information on the platypus in this slender, enjoyable book. What's more, she examines the sometimes shocked reactions the platypus inspired in European naturalists when they first saw specimens of the creature at the dawn of the 19th century. For, Moyal writes, the platypus almost single-handedly (or, perhaps better, single-web-footedly) overturned the prevailing classification of animals according to great-chain-of-being models; with its hodgepodge of physical traits and behaviours, it offered "an unexpected bridge between the categories of mammal/quadruped and reptiles and birds". That bridge helped set evolutionary theory on a new course; as Moyal writes, the platypus played an explicit role in Charles Darwin's ideas on isolation, species diversity, and natural selection, and he branded it a prime example of a "living fossil" that had managed to find an unoccupied ecological niche and live relatively undisturbed, while fellow creatures marched toward extinction.
Scientists continue to study the platypus, Moyal writes in closing, for its remarkable traits, including a seeming sixth sense that helps it locate its prey in the underwater darkness. Her graceful book, shedding new light on the history of biology, ought to earn Ornithorhynchus anatinus many new admirers. --Gregory McNamee
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
A great account of how a small furry animal managed to challenge biology's beliefs.
If any animal has mystery and charisma, it is the platypus. This book tell its story, and it's a winner... It has something for everyone—the excitement of a detective story, the history of biological ideas... Everybody will enjoy this book, and the story continues to unfold... Read it and enjoy.
(David Penny Nature
Engaging... In recounting the story of how the platypus was studied and eventually classified, Moyal explains that it became entangled in broader debates over taxonomy and evolution among the wise men of European science.
(Christian Science Monitor
A spirited and eminently readable account of this odd Australian mammal that follows the story of its discovery, the scientific infighting over its place in taxonomy, and modern efforts to understand its biology and keep and breed it in captivity.
Moyal affectionately examines the scientific history of one of nature's most fascinating oddities.
(Quarterly Review of Biology
Moyal's sublime Platypus traces the wild and raucous history of the antipodean creature's introduction to the world. Part history, part mystery, Platypus details how the European scientific community was able to understand this Australian oddity... As remarkable and delightful as its bizarre subject.
(New York Resident
A fascinating 'biography' of the bizarre and unusual creature known to taxonomists as Ornithorhynchus.
(Science Books and Films
This book about one of the world's most unique animals is written at an academic level, but is clear enough for a serious young person to read.
It is a good read.