Voting for the final five has now closed. Voting for the fabulous last four will open at 12pm AEST Sun 21 August.
Can it be true? One of our most unusual and iconic animals, thrown from the podium in the last days of the tally? A venomous mammal with a bill that detects electric current? That lays eggs in burrows, then suckles its young? We’re sorry to say goodbye to the extraordinary platypus, which wasn’t able to swim its way to the top of the Mammal of the Year leaderboard this time.
Now you’ve got just 22 hours to vote for your favourite in the Top 5, after which we’ll remove the lowest-rated mammal, clear the tallies and start again at the same time tomorrow.
With only a few days to go, tensions are running high and every vote counts as the highly-endangered Gilbert’s potoroo, Mountain pygmy possum and Southern bent-wing bat fight for victory against more robust and widespread dingo and rakali. We love them all, but only one will secure the crown.
Plaudits for the platypus
Name: Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)
Size: Approximately 30-40cm long, weigh up to 3kg.
Diet: Carnivore – aquatic invertebrates.
Habitat: Freshwater creeks, rivers and streams across eastern and southern Australia.
Superpower: Male platypuses are venomous – one of a few venomous mammals in existence.
No argument: the platypus is one of the most extraordinary animals on the planet.
Famous for their quirky, unusual appearance, they were originally thought to be a hoax combination of different animals when specimens were first seen by English naturalists. Cryptic and elusive, they are often called shy, but that’s mostly because they are well camouflaged within their environment and spend most of their lives underwater or in their burrows.
Breeding season starts around September each year, but before this, the males need to find a territory with resident females. While the platypus may look very cute, they also have a dark side: males have sharp spurs on their hind feet that are connected to a venom gland in their leg. They use these spurs as weapons to fight other males as they contest breeding rights.
Males and females conduct a beguiling courtship ritual prior to mating as they assess each other’s suitability. First the male will grab the tail of the female in his bill, while she swims around in a series of loops and twists through the water. If things are going swimmingly, the female will then twist around and clasp her bill on the male’s tail, so they complete a romantic loop tracing circles underwater.
After mating, the female constructs a nest by carrying leaves and grasses in her tail, which she takes underground into a special nesting burrow where she will lay her eggs – and here’s where our Mammal of the Year title really should be a no-contest. A mammal that lays eggs? This is the preposterous platypus, remember – a monotreme, sharing this astonishing ability only with the various echidna species. She will normally lay one or two soft-shelled eggs, similar to reptile eggs, and incubate them for about 10 days. When the puggles (not kidding) hatch, they are the size of a jellybean and fur-less. They live underground for the next four months, suckling from their mum – but the milk is secreted a bit differently to other mammals. Platypus don’t have teats, so milk drips out of patches on mum’s belly, which the puggles lap up.
At four months of age, the young are almost fully grown, about 80% the size of their parent. This is when they are weaned from milk and leave the nesting burrow for the first time. No swimming lessons from parents are required – foraging and underwater acrobatics all comes naturally.
The platypus is a carnivorous generalist feeder in the water, eating a variety of aquatic invertebrates such as caddisfly and dragonfly nymphs, shrimp, mussels, worms, midge larvae and crayfish. They locate their prey by using specialised receptors on their bills. Electroreceptors can detect both AC and DC current, while the mechano-receptors detect vibrations, water pressure and movement. The information from these receptors allows the platypus to navigate under the water and also to locate and capture their prey.
In no particular order, here are our Top Five!
Rakali or Australian water rat (Hydromys chrysogaster)
The wondrous water rat emerged victorious, and without tough competition from the rest of the Rollicking Rodents, carrying a healthy 32% of the votes across the finishing line.
Gilbert’s Potoroo (Potorous gilbertii)
This beautiful little fungus eater hopped to the top of the Marvellous Macropods and stayed there with a quarter of all the votes, pipping the Quokka at the post.
Southern bent-wing bat (Miniopterus orianae bassanii)
An incredible surge of last-minute voting in the Brilliant Bats category saw a surprising switcheroo; the southern bent-wing bat swooping ahead of the spectacled flying-fox and into the Top 10 with 36% of the votes.
Mountain pygmy possum (Burramys parvus)
This alpine darling might be hibernating, but that didn’t stop its ascent to the top of the Hello Possums category and into the running for Mammal of the Year.
Dingo (Canis dingo or Canis familiaris)
Australia’s charismatic but controversial native dog took out the top spot in the Rock Stars category in a landslide with a whopping 35% of the vote!
Think hard about your choice because you can only vote once per round!
How does voting work?
“But how does voting work?” you may ask. Don’t worry, it’s super simple.
Voting has now opened for the Top five (from 12:00pm AEST 20 August) and will be open for 22 hours – closing tomorrow, 21 August, at 10:00am AEST.
Then, at 12:00pm AEST Sunday we’ll announce the mammal that has received the least votes and has been booted out of the running.
We’ll set the tally back to zero and open up voting for the Top four anew.
Each day we’ll whittle away at the list of our most marvellous mammals until the last two left standing are announced on Tuesday 23 August.
With voting open for two days, we’ll finally put the debate to rest (for this year at least) and crown Australia’s Mammal of the Year on Thursday 25 August!
Vote for your pick in the Top five here:
Imma Perfetto is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a Bachelor of Science with Honours in Science Communication from the University of Adelaide.
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