Behold the Platypus!

by Melannie Svoboda SND on January 27, 2020

NOTE: As you know, in recent months Australia has been plagued with massive fires. At least 28 people have died, thousands of homes have been destroyed, billions of animals have perished or lost their habitat, and millions of acres of trees and plants have been destroyed. Let us continue to pray for this beautiful country. Before those fires started, I wrote today’s reflection. I dedicate it to now to this unique and precious country.

Jesus often said behold. He said, “Behold the lilies of the field… Behold the birds of the air… Behold people casting money into the temple treasury… ” Behold means look, observe, pay attention to.

Today I say to you: Behold the Platypus! Really take a good look at this unusual animal that has been labeled bizarre, quirky, and wacky. First, a few facts. The platypus is an animal that has a duck bill, beaver tail, and otter feet. When European researchers first examined a preserved platypus in 1799, they thought it was a hoax–that someone had sewn three animals together!

Now, before we go any further, I must say something about the plural of platypus. Most people say platypuses, platypus, or platypi (as if the word had Latin origins). But platypus means flat feet in Greek so some say the plural should be platypodes, following the Greek rule for forming plurals. I know, I know: this is probably more information than you wanted to know, so let’s get back to the actual fascinating animal.

Platypuses are found only in eastern Australia and Tasmania. They are mammals. Kind of. The females lay eggs. They do lactate, but they have no nipples. Instead they secret their milk through pores in their skin. The milk gathers in grooves where the young platypuses lick it up. Platypuses and their ancestors have been around for over 80 million years, so this arrangement seems to work fine for them. They are also completely carnivorous, eating crayfish, insect larva, worms, shrimp, and such. They spend a lot of time in the water and are excellent swimmers. Their webbed feet help with that. On land, they aren’t very graceful because they actually walk on their knuckles!

Here’s another peculiar fact: Platypuses have no teeth and no stomach. When they eat, they take in small stones and gravel to help chew and digest their food while it’s in their mouth. They’re so efficient, they have no need of a stomach. Their food goes into their esophagus and then directly into their intestines.

Two baby platypuses, platypus, platypi, platypodes.

Platypuses close their eyes when they swim. How do they find their food, you might be wondering? They sense their prey through electrolocation. In addition, the males have a spur on the hind foot that delivers venom. This venom could kill a small animal and cause humans severe pain. The male uses this weapon mostly while fighting other males to win the affection of a lady platypus (a platypa, if you follow the Latin rule for feminine nouns.)

At one time platypuses were almost hunted to extinction for their beautiful, dense fur. Now they are protected–and even celebrated. They serve as a national mascot in Australia and their image is on the reverse side of an Australian 20 cent coin. Lest you think they have an easy life, however, their predators include hawks, owls, snakes, eagles, and crocodiles. When disturbed, a platypus will emit a low growl–like some people I know–including myself, on occasion!

At this point (if you’ve persevered in reading this!), you might be wondering: What’s your point, Melannie? What’s this have to do with everyday spirituality? Actually I have 3 points: 1) The platypus demonstrates that there’s no limit to God’s imagination and creativity. 2) You can’t put the platypus into a category–yet how often do we put people into categories: man/woman, holy/heathen, Democrat/Republican, native/foreigner, friend/foe? 3) And finally, we are called to respect all of creation–so let’s make room for the platypus on our long list of God’s marvels!

Is there anything in this reflection that surprised or intrigued you?

Are there other living or non-living things in creation that you find fascinating? What are they and why?

What can help us NOT to put people into categories?

I know I have some Australian readers. Do you have anything to say about your platypuses?

Our song today is Toby Mac’s “Everything.” It’s an upbeat prayer about seeing God’s love in everything–(dare I say, even in the platypus?)

I invite you to respond to this reflection and/or song below. Don’t be shy!

{ 23 comments… read them below or add one }

John E Hopkins January 27, 2020 at 4:37 am

Good morning, Sr. Melannie…..
Good morning, all…..

So true, our God is wildly creative!
So true, we can’t put people in categories — too much of that these days, perhaps especially here in America.
So true, our prayers and love go out to Australia!

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Kathleen Magiera January 27, 2020 at 5:13 am

Good Morning Sr. Melannie,

What a delightful reflection on the platypus – one of God’s most enduring creations! I enjoyed all the fun facts about the platypus including all the grammar lessons.

In these times of such division among people, maybe this creature can teach us to enjoy our differences more and be more respectful of those differences. The Spirit is speaking to me right now.

Kathleen

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Ed Johnson January 27, 2020 at 5:51 am

Fascinating post, Sister. To borrow a phrase from author James Herriot, “All Creatures Great and Small.”……Certainly true in God’s fascinating universe. Thank you. Peace and Blessings to all, and continuing prayers for Australia.
Ed J.

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Joy A Martin January 27, 2020 at 6:06 am

Your reflections resonate with me…you make me think…
Thank you always…

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Thomas DeFreitas January 27, 2020 at 6:48 am

A living thing I find fascinating: now, mind you, I generally hate bugs. But there’s this infinitesimally small flying insect I see sometimes in the spring. It is of such a vivid green! I mean that kind of almost neon green of April’s burgeoning leaves. This little fella or gal is GREEN. And hardly three millimetres in length, if I had to guess. Most commonly, I’ll see these critters bouncing against the windows of MBTA buses. Have no idea what they’re called. Maybe I should do some kind of reverse Google Image search for “green fly small.”

Oh, yes, I’m going to be using “platypodes” from now on — emphasis on the antepenult.

Peace and light to all who are reading!

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Mary M Nausadis January 27, 2020 at 7:47 am

Good morning to all,
I’ve never given the platypus much thought and so I find your details of this wondrous creature rather captivating. If we would only look at people’s differences with wonder and awe, wouldn’t our world be a different place?

I’m thinking of the image of the “Body of Christ” and I’m picturing something way beyond the unusual of the platypus. Perhaps God gave us the platypus to help us understand how unusual Christ’s body really is…….mmmmmm, that is cause for pause and reflection, I believe. What do I look like as a part of this body? do I appear “normal” or unusual?

Thank you for giving us the beginnings of a reflection, Sr. Malannie.

And, yes, to the people and the land of Australia, I pray!

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Pete January 27, 2020 at 8:11 am

Prayers to the Australian people, to the family of the C130 crew that went down fighting the fires, and to the family of Kobe Bryant. We don’t know when it’s our turn. When walking the AT, a bright orange salamander got my attention. I never stepped on one, but it was a challenge to avoid them. A vivid memory still. Why care? One of God’s creatures. “I see him in every little thing all day”. Thanks for the knowledge up date on the platypus, who knew?

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Elizabeth Hillegas January 27, 2020 at 8:55 am

My understanding of your reflection today is that God’s creations are all important, and we humans need not be continuing to put his creations in categories of importance. Let’s strive to understand how God’s creations work together and to trust God’s beautiful world.

I like the plural platypi(a).

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Mary E Nolan January 27, 2020 at 9:25 am

Always look forward to you on Monday!

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Jean Canatsey January 27, 2020 at 10:20 am

I never, ever, gave any thought to the platypus and now I’m intrigued by it’s uniqueness. There seem to be no categories for God’s creation. We are all equal in our own right.
Thank you, Sr. Melannie, for shedding light on this unusual creature and bringing to mind that there is nothing under the sun that can’t be the catalyst for contemplation.
My husband said that the platypus is proof that God has a sense of humor!

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SR. Patrick Joseph,SND February 1, 2020 at 9:04 am

Dear Melannie, this was very interesting article on the platypus. I love most animals Not sure about this one. Anyway , this reminds me of a
Quote on My Wisom from Women Saints calendar I received at Christmas. Contemplation is…seeing God in everything and everything in God, with completely extraordinary clearness and delicacy. -St Marie
Of the Incarnation. It was in the Feast of St Thomas Aquinas. I think this has been your message in most or all of your books! Seeing God in the ordinary is so very touching to me and I’m sure so many others.
Thank you for this way of contemplating our Lord God! God Bless!

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Josita January 27, 2020 at 10:40 am

Hi Melannie,
What a interesting and fun refection! Never even gave a poor platypus any attention. You kind of made it a lovable little creature. It makes me realize how unique each of us is…and deserves our attention and love.
God does have a sense of humor!
Have a blessed day. Love, Josita

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Jean Shott January 27, 2020 at 11:45 am

Very interesting, intriguing post – just like you!

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Melannie Svoboda SND February 1, 2020 at 11:30 am

Readers: Jean has to say nice things about me… She’s my cousin!
Melannie

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Tom January 27, 2020 at 3:38 pm

I have been amazed time and again how my preconceived notion of a person has been changed once I took the time and risk of getting to know them personally.

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Melannie Svoboda SND February 1, 2020 at 11:32 am

Amen, Tom! As usual, your response is concise and right on the money. Thank you! Melannie

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Debra Smith January 28, 2020 at 5:55 am

I love your creativity in finding everyday spirituality in the most unique places and things. Really causes one to stop and think…mission accomplished! I also love the songs you pick, they match up to your message perfectly. The song with each reflection really drew me to your blog Sister Melanie…..thank you!

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Maggie Dunn January 28, 2020 at 8:19 pm

Just plain wonderful‼️
Your 3 points were right on target.
And I will add one more point…we’re never too old to learn!
I’m 85‼️

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mary ann January 29, 2020 at 2:39 pm

I loved this Melanie…Maybe because I love all animals and can get absorbed in so much of God’s creation, even our human uniqueness. And I loved your humor throughout. I’m relieved you did not report that the platypus might be either extinct or nearly so because of the fires. But the way, the same question exists about the octopus and what is the plural? It is octopuses because it is a Greek word, not Latin! Mary Ann Flannery, SC

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Regina February 1, 2020 at 8:50 am

…just wondering…. Maybe it was Saturday evening on the Last Day of Creation….and God decided to reuse some of his earlier ideas; and He jumbled them a bit. Behold! the Platypus.

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Melannie Svoboda SND February 1, 2020 at 11:29 am

I love the image, Regina… God the recycler… Melannie

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Diane February 4, 2020 at 2:01 pm

Genesis Chapter 1:27
God created man in his image; in the divine image he created him; male and female he created them.

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1Odelia February 14, 2020 at 12:09 pm

How true, Melanie. I see God when the traffic light turns green, when someone complements me and when on a snowy day as I got out of my car, a stranger offered his arm to help me walk. There are so many opportunities to see God in everything.

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