The extraordinary story of a biological riddle that confounded scientists for nearly ninety years - the beguiling, elusive platypus.
'In this remote part of the earth, Nature (having made horses, oxen, ducks, geese, oaks, elms, and all regular productions for the rest of the world) seems determined to have a bit of a play, and to amuse herself as she pleases.' - Rev Sydney Smith, Sydney, 1819.
When the first specimen of a platypus arrived in England in 1799 it was greeted with astonishment and disbelief. What was this strange creature from the new colony of Australia? It defied rational explanation, with its webbed feet and duck's beak attached to what seemed to be a mammal's body - surely it was a hoax on the part of those cheeky new colonials?
As eighteenth century naturalists struggled to classify the platypus, the little animal excited curiosity and sparked fierce debate in international scientific circles, drawing in leaders of zoology and comparative anatomy in Britain and Europe. This is the enigmatic story of a biological riddle that confounded scientists for nearly ninety years, challenging theories of creationism, evolution and the classification of species along the way.
Secretive, elusive and beguiling, the platypus has continued to captivate public and scientific attention to the present day.
Ann Moyal is a well-known historian of Australian science and has held research and teaching positions at a number of Australian universities. She has written many books and articles and is founder and past-president of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia. She now lives in Canberra.
Short-listed South Australian Festival 2001 AU; Short-listed Centre for Australian Cultural Studies Award 2001 AU; Winner Whitley Awards, Best Historical Zoology book 2001 AU
Allen & Unwin
Allen & Unwin
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