I was searching for information about the poison delivered by the spur of the platypus this morning when I came across a curious abstract for an article in the Journal of Hand Surgery:
“The platypus (ornithorhynchus anatinus) is a furry duck-billed mammal that inhabits the waterways of eastern Australia. The male may reach 60 cm in length with a 20 cm beaver-like tail. We report the case of an American naturalist stung whilst trying to study the male in the wild. This resulted in an intense local reaction. Warning signs should therefore be erected at air and sea ports warning tourists of the dangers of these venomous Australians.”
Warning signs at airports cautioning tourists about “venomous Australians”? The platypus isn’t a very common animal, and it doesn’t hang out in places where most tourists to Australia would go, so I thought at first that this overreaching abstract must be some kind of satire, an April Fool’s joke of some kind.
It is not. Author Michael A. Tonkin is for real, and has written other case studies, such as Acute Calcific Tendinitis in the Hand and Wrist. Coauthor J. Negrine is also a genuine medical researcher, having written unforgettable favorites such as Synovial chondromatosis in the distal interphalangeal joint.
No one should handle live a platypus without taking extreme precautions. Getting jabbed with a platypus can cause severe swelling and excruciating pain that even high doses of morphine can’t beat, and the pain can last for months. Still, there isn’t much chance of a jabbing taking place – many cases of platypus attacks happen when platypus researchers are handling their subjects, taking measurements and “samples”. So long as tourists to Australia avoid such activities, they’re probably going to be fine, even if there are no warning signs up at the airport.