Platypuses are already one of the strangest animals in the world, but University of New England researchers recently found a specimen in northern New South Wales that was even weirder than usual.
While conducting surveys for endangered freshwater turtles along a tributary of the Gwydir River in the NSW Northern Tablelands, a white platypus surfaced right beside them.
Streeting said the animal stayed on the surface just long enough for the team to capture the brief video at the top of this story before it disappeared with a splash.
She said that platypus sightings are all part of a day’s work for freshwater turtle researchers, but nobody expected to see a white platypus.
So why exactly was the animal’s fur bright white, while its feet and bill were dark, when platypuses are usually dark all over?
In a research paper on the sighting, Streeting said that the platypus was “leucistic”, with reduced pigmentation, rather than an albino, which means it would have lacked pigmentation altogether.
“Albinism is the absence of tyrosinase, an essential enzyme for melanin production, resulting in pale skin, white fur or feathers and red eyes while leucism arises from a defective pigment transfer process, causing a lack of melanin in the skin, fur or feathers and results in partially, or completely, white (or whitish) animals,” she wrote.
If you’re wondering just how uncommon it is for a platypus to be partially or completely white, the answer is extremely rare.
In their research paper, Streeting and her colleagues documented just 15 cases of platypuses that were partially or completely white in records going back to 1803 – that’s fewer that one sighting per decade on average.
The good news is that the frolicking monotreme was spotted numerous times over a two-year period from 2021 to 2023, which means it appears to be thriving despite being a more conspicuous target than other platypuses for predators like foxes, cats and birds of prey.
And for the linguists among you, yes, the plural of platypus is platypuses, not platypi. Platypus is a Greek word and only (some) Latin words take the plural form “i”.