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    For over two centuries, the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) has been constructed and categorized in multiple ways. An unprecedented mélange of anatomical features and physiological functions, it long remained a systematic quandary. Nevertheless, since 1797, naturalists and biologists have pursued two recurring obsessions. Investigations into platypus reproduction and lactation have focused attention largely upon females of the species. Despite its apparent admixture of avian, reptilian and mammalian characters, the platypus was soon placed as a rudimentary mammal--primitive, naïve and harmless. This article pursues a different taxonomic trajectory, concentrating on a specifically male anatomical development: the crural spur and venom gland on the hind legs. Once the defining characteristic of both the platypus and echidna (Tachyglossus aculeatus), by 1830 this sexed spur had been largely dismissed as inactive and irrelevant. For a creature regularly depicted as a biological outlier, the systematic and evolutionary implications of platypus poison have remained largely overlooked. In Australia, however, sporadic cases of 'spiking' led to consistent homologies being remarked between the platypus crural system and the venom glands of snakes. As with its reproductive reliance upon eggs, possession of an endogenous poison suggested significant reptilian affinities, yet the platypus has rarely been classed as an advanced reptile. Indeed, ongoing uncertainty regarding the biological purpose of the male's spur has ostensibly posed a directional puzzle. As with so many of its traits, however, platypus poison has been consistently described as a redundant remnant, rather than an emergent feature indicating evolutionary advance.


    Peter Hobbins. A Spur to Atavism: Placing Platypus Poison. Journal of the history of biology. 2015 Nov;48(4):499-537

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    PMID: 25964144

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