Huge toothed platypuses inhabited Australia millions of years ago. So proves the stunning new fossil find of a ‘Godzilla’-like relative of the cute, duck-billed creature. The discovery also breaks down a couple of theories.
Twice the size of a normal platypus – about one meter in length –
the strange relative was first identified by a single distinctive
tooth, which was discovered in Riversleigh, in the north-eastern
state of Queensland – a World Heritage site bristling with fossil
The giant platypus “pretty well blew our minds,” admitted
Mike Archer to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archer is
a professor at the University of South Wales. ‘Platypus Godzilla’
is the name he chose for the animal.
Columbia University PhD candidate Rebecca Pian identified the
suspected new species on Tuesday in the Journal of Vertebrate
But the fact of the find is not the only thing that startled
scientists. Several of their long-held notions about the
evolution of the platypus have been challenged, not discounting
the fact that the timid, nocturnal animal in its modern form is
already a combination of bird, mammal and reptile.
Scientists initially thought that the platypus had gradually lost
its teeth in the course of evolution and also lost its giant
size. However, the new find possessed sizable teeth, leading
scientists to believe that it is not an immediate ancestor.
"We didn't expect this. It's a huge platypus at the wrong
time. But there it was," Archer said.
"Discovery of this new species was a shock to us because prior
to this, the fossil record suggested that the evolutionary tree
of platypuses was a relatively linear one," he continued,
adding that the scientific community now realizes “that there
were unanticipated side branches on this tree, some of which
The professor added that the size of the animal was a very
significant factor back in the day and few animals would risk
venturing into platypus-infested waters, apart from a crocodile.
The nature of its tooth meant it could chew through the shell of
The tooth, discovered by Pian, is so unique that scientists
believe it is an isolated species.
“We know it's a platypus, we also know it's very different
from any other toothed platypus we've seen before," Archer
Pian’s research supports the view that even this incomplete
platypus is a monumental find contributing to the overall
understanding of this mysterious nocturnal creature.
Plenty of similarities are also present, including the animal’s
aquatic habitat, living in freshwater pools in forest areas
covering Riversleigh millions of years ago. So is its diet.
Scientists also remembered the earlier hypothesis about the
different kinds of the platypus over the years, and this newest
discovery supports that.
This is the fourth previously-unseen animal discovered in
Australia in under a month, following a recent trip to the
previously unexplored forested area of Cape York Peninsula, which
yielded a primitive-looking leaf-tailed Gecko – among other
species – and is expected to produce more discoveries on return
trips coming in the near future.