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Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World Paperback – 9 Nov 2004


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Paperback, 9 Nov 2004
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Product details

  • Paperback: 248 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (9 Nov 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801880521
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801880520
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 13.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,198,268 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

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.

Review

A great account of how a small furry animal managed to challenge biology's beliefs.

(New Scientist)

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.

(Booklist)

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.

(Kliatt)

It is a good read.

(Wildlife Activist)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By R. P. Sedgwick VINE VOICE on 18 Oct 2003
Format: Hardcover
I read Platypus out of pure interest as I had read a superb book about a similarly anomalous species (the Coelacanth), and wished to learn about how the truth about this remarkable creature had gradually been revealed since it was first discovered,
The Platypus story differs considerably from that of the Coelacanth, however, in that there were so many people who contributed to its story (the Coelacanth tale involves just a handful of people). As the book therefore covers a longer period, and consequently many more personalities are involved, the book tends to concentrate in a fairly detailed way on the specifics of what was discovered at each step rather than tell the tale of the people who made those discoveries.
If you are genuinely interested in learning of the history of the Platypus per se then I would say this book is good. If you are more interested in just reading a book about a significant scientific discovery (without particularly caring what it is) and the people who were involved then there are more interesting books than this.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By "james_e_c" on 14 Mar 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book displays a great deal of excellent research on behalf of it's author. She managed to bring every aspect of the Platypus's story and display it in a very readable and well structured manor. The author has also managed to portray the world of Eighteen and Nineteeth century natural history and taxonomic classification extremely well and makes the reader realise how controversal the discovery of the Platypus was in a time where the biblical story of the arc and the great flood were widely regarded as fact. The discovery of the platypus put this into question and produced additional questions regarding creation and religion. The toxonomic classification of the Platypus as a transitional species between reptiles and mammals eventually placed it within the mammalians, which suggested that mammals and even humans had evolved from more primative forms and to many people during this period was unthinkable, however true. Anyone interested in the origins of the therory of evolution would do well by reading this publication. Anyone who has an affinity for Australian wildlife or natural history in general should obtain a copy and give it the time it deserves.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 18 July 2004
Format: Hardcover
The humble platypus, which few have seen in the wild, created more biological debate in the 19th century than any other animal. In the 20th century, observations led to startling new findings about how the platypus reflects advanced evolutionary development.
When I went to Australia, the platypus was on my most-hoped-to-see list. Fortunately, there was a nice habitat in the Sydney zoo that helped me to learn more about them. The platypus uses burrows as its land home, but spends a lot of time in the water. The platypus can consume half its weight a day in live food. To locate that much food, it relies on an advanced electrolocation method involving its duck-like bill. This method is more effective than the sonar-like methods used by other animals.
Well, what is a platypus? First, you notice the duck-like bill. Perhaps a bird? Second, you notice the fur. Perhaps a mammal? Third, you see the webbed feet. Back to bird? Fourth, close examination shows that the platypus has mammary glands. Mammal? Fifth, the platypus lays eggs that are like those of reptiles. Reptile?
These days, the view is that the platypus is a mammal that lays eggs, along with the echidna. But both animals confounded 19th century naturalists before Darwin when Divine Creation was the dominant theory of evolution. Elaborate classification schemes had been developed that traced everything into one neat family or another. The platypus did not fit.
The first specimens were sent back pickled in alcohol to England and later to France, where dissection sparked a continuing debate about whether or not the platypus had mammary glands and whether or not their young could suckle. How the young were born was a complete mystery.
Read more ›
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By KJ on 5 Sep 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Quickly dispatched and as described, thanks
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 8 May 2004
Format: Hardcover
The humble platypus, which few have seen in the wild, created more biological debate in the 19th century than any other animal. In the 20th century, observations led to startling new findings about how the platypus reflects advanced evolutionary development.
When I went to Australia, the platypus was on my most-hoped-to-see list. Fortunately, there was a nice habitat in the Sydney zoo that helped me to learn more about them. The platypus uses burrows as its land home, but spends a lot of time in the water. The platypus can consume half its weight a day in live food. To locate that much food, it relies on an advanced electrolocation method involving its duck-like bill. This method is more effective than the sonar-like methods used by other animals.
Well, what is a platypus? First, you notice the duck-like bill. Perhaps a bird? Second, you notice the fur. Perhaps a mammal? Third, you see the webbed feet. Back to bird? Fourth, close examination shows that the platypus has mammary glands. Mammal? Fifth, the platypus lays eggs that are like those of reptiles. Reptile?
These days, the view is that the platypus is a mammal that lays eggs, along with the echidna. But both animals confounded 19th century naturalists before Darwin when Divine Creation was the dominant theory of evolution. Elaborate classification schemes had been developed that traced everything into one neat family or another. The platypus did not fit.
The first specimens were sent back pickled in alcohol to England and later to France, where dissection sparked a continuing debate about whether or not the platypus had mammary glands and whether or not their young could suckle. How the young were born was a complete mystery.
Read more ›
Comment Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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