Thursday, September 27, 2007

Everything I Consume: Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World

A few weeks ago I was at the Museum of Natural History gift shop with Gwendolyn. I told her I wanted to get something for myself and she agreed that I needed something, too. We went up the stairs to the grown-up section of the gift shop and she picked this book by Ann Moyal. It was a good choice.

I'm a big fan of books that take an in-depth look at one thing and through that shows you so much more about the world. Two of my favorites are Calendar by David Duncan and Cod by Mark Kurlansky. I think everyone should read those books. Seriously, read them now! Dava Sobel's Longitude was pretty good, too. Platypus is a notch below those but it's still a good book.

After the platypus was discovered first seen by white people in 1799 it caused a huge dilemma into exactly what it was. A mammal? A reptile? A bird? Did it lay eggs? Could its young nurse? And if so, why didn't it have nipples? And how do you nurse with such a large bill?
(I've tried it, it's not easy.) This all happened in the great age of scientific classification when Linnaeus and others were trying to classify all animals and decide where they fit in the Great Chain Of Being. The platypus challenged scientists belief in a neat, orderly animal kingdom and they struggled to classify it. Later, on his worldwide voyage Charles Darwin (maybe you've heard of him) saw a platypus and it greatly influenced him. Ironically, these debates were taking place among Europeans thousands of miles away and not Australians. The role of Australians was mainly to kill many, many, platypuses and send them back to England.

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