Black Swans and a Platypus at Tidbinbilla

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Black swans (Cygnus atratus) prefer large reservoirs such as lakes and ponds with an abundance of vegetation, feeding on aquatic plants and algae by extending their long necks a meter below the water’s surface. They are large waterfowl with a wingspan of up to two meters, easily distinguishable from other birds by their jet black plumage, orange-red bill with a terminal white band, and contrasting white feathers on the underside of the wings. Monogamous pairs form during the breeding season and mate for life, though a fraction of broods have multiple paternity and long-term male/male pair-bonding is also reported. This pair joined pacific black ducks (Anas superciliosa), an Australian pelican (Pelecanus conspicillatus), and even a shy platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) to forage peacefully in the clear waters.

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The platypus is a marvel in the animal world, joining echidnas as the only extant monotremes. Among their crazy assemblage of sauropsid and mammalian traits, monotromes lay eggs, secrete milk through skin pores, have a single duct (cloaca) for excretory and reproductive functions, and are hairy and lack teeth. In fact, when a platypus specimen was sent to England in 1799, naturalists first thought the creature was a hoax. Platypuses close their eyes and ears when they forage, locating arthropods by detecting their electrical fields and fine-scale movements. If only I could peek underwater to watch the platypus excavate for arthropods using its electroreceptive bill!

All animals in this post photographed in situ [1]

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