NOTE: As you know, in recent months Australia has been plagued with massive fires. At least 28 people have died, thousands of homes have been destroyed, billions of animals have perished or lost their habitat, and millions of acres of trees and plants have been destroyed. Let us continue to pray for this beautiful country. Before those fires started, I wrote today’s reflection. I dedicate it to now to this unique and precious country.
Jesus often said behold. He said, “Behold the lilies of the field… Behold the birds of the air… Behold people casting money into the temple treasury… ” Behold means look, observe, pay attention to.
Today I say to you: Behold the Platypus! Really take a good look at this unusual animal that has been labeled bizarre, quirky, and wacky. First, a few facts. The platypus is an animal that has a duck bill, beaver tail, and otter feet. When European researchers first examined a preserved platypus in 1799, they thought it was a hoax–that someone had sewn three animals together!
Now, before we go any further, I must say something about the plural of platypus. Most people say platypuses, platypus, or platypi (as if the word had Latin origins). But platypus means flat feet in Greek so some say the plural should be platypodes, following the Greek rule for forming plurals. I know, I know: this is probably more information than you wanted to know, so let’s get back to the actual fascinating animal.
Platypuses are found only in eastern Australia and Tasmania. They are mammals. Kind of. The females lay eggs. They do lactate, but they have no nipples. Instead they secret their milk through pores in their skin. The milk gathers in grooves where the young platypuses lick it up. Platypuses and their ancestors have been around for over 80 million years, so this arrangement seems to work fine for them. They are also completely carnivorous, eating crayfish, insect larva, worms, shrimp, and such. They spend a lot of time in the water and are excellent swimmers. Their webbed feet help with that. On land, they aren’t very graceful because they actually walk on their knuckles!
Here’s another peculiar fact: Platypuses have no teeth and no stomach. When they eat, they take in small stones and gravel to help chew and digest their food while it’s in their mouth. They’re so efficient, they have no need of a stomach. Their food goes into their esophagus and then directly into their intestines.
Platypuses close their eyes when they swim. How do they find their food, you might be wondering? They sense their prey through electrolocation. In addition, the males have a spur on the hind foot that delivers venom. This venom could kill a small animal and cause humans severe pain. The male uses this weapon mostly while fighting other males to win the affection of a lady platypus (a platypa, if you follow the Latin rule for feminine nouns.)
At one time platypuses were almost hunted to extinction for their beautiful, dense fur. Now they are protected–and even celebrated. They serve as a national mascot in Australia and their image is on the reverse side of an Australian 20 cent coin. Lest you think they have an easy life, however, their predators include hawks, owls, snakes, eagles, and crocodiles. When disturbed, a platypus will emit a low growl–like some people I know–including myself, on occasion!
At this point (if you’ve persevered in reading this!), you might be wondering: What’s your point, Melannie? What’s this have to do with everyday spirituality? Actually I have 3 points: 1) The platypus demonstrates that there’s no limit to God’s imagination and creativity. 2) You can’t put the platypus into a category–yet how often do we put people into categories: man/woman, holy/heathen, Democrat/Republican, native/foreigner, friend/foe? 3) And finally, we are called to respect all of creation–so let’s make room for the platypus on our long list of God’s marvels!
Is there anything in this reflection that surprised or intrigued you?
Are there other living or non-living things in creation that you find fascinating? What are they and why?
What can help us NOT to put people into categories?
I know I have some Australian readers. Do you have anything to say about your platypuses?
Our song today is Toby Mac’s “Everything.” It’s an upbeat prayer about seeing God’s love in everything–(dare I say, even in the platypus?)
I invite you to respond to this reflection and/or song below. Don’t be shy!