Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World (Paperback)

Ann Moyal

ISBN 10: 0801880521 / ISBN 13: 9780801880520
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Paperback. When the first platypus specimen reached England from Australia in 1799, the scientific community claimed that it was a hoax. On closer investigation, dubious European naturalists eventual.Shipping may be from multiple locations in the US or from the UK, depending on stock availability. 248 pages. 0.322. Bookseller Inventory #

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When the first platypus specimen reached England from Australia in 1799, the scientific community claimed that it was a hoax. On closer investigation, dubious European naturalists eventually declared it to be real, though in an age obsessed with classification, the category-defying platypus sparked heated debates across Europe for a century. In Platypus, Ann Moyal provides a unique biography of one of the world's most famously strange creatures and tells the incredible story of how it became the focus of the great scientific debates of the nineteenth century. Eloquent and concise, Platypus uncovers the earliest theories and latest discoveries about this delightfully odd member of the animal kingdom.

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 considered it, 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 behaviors, 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 sheds new light on the history of biology and ought to earn Ornithorhynchus anatinus many new admirers. --Gregory McNamee

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Title: Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a ...
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