A "Godzilla" platypus? Apparently so, say scientists that have uncovered evidence of a massive species of the strange animal. At least, "godzilla" platypus is how one scientist described the newly discovered species.
AFP reported (via Yahoo News) Nov. 4 that University of New South Wales professor Mike Archer told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that the discovery "blew" the minds of researchers. The find comes from the unearthing of a single -- but very distinctive -- tooth from the Riversleigh site in Queensland in northeastern Australia.
"And then bang out of the blue drops this monster," Archer said. "Platypus Godzilla."
The new species, christened Obdurodon tharalkooschild, is believed to have been about twice the size of the modern platypus, which normally grow to about 1.5 meters (one and half feet) long. The platypus is one of nature's stranger species, having the attributes of mammals and birds and reptiles, not to mention being marsupial and reproducing via deposited eggs. It is found only in eastern Australia.
The BBC reports that Archer and fellow scientists have dubbed the fossil find "'platypus-zilla' - this gigantic monstrosity that you would have been afraid to swim with."
He also noted that the existence of such a large species of platypus at one time was an indication of "branches in the platypus family tree that we hadn't suspected before."
The credit of the actual discovery of the Godzilla platypus, or platypus-zilla, goes to Rebecca Pian, a PhD candidate at Columbia University in the United States. Her findings were published in the Journal of Vertebrate Palaeontology.
The single molar found by Pian suggests that the "Godzilla" platypus could have shared the same strange appearance as modern platypuses -- duck-like bills, large webbed feet, poisonous spurs. But the newly discovered species would have been much larger.
"I guess it probably would have looked like a platypus on steroids," said Prof Archer.
Pian wrote, according to AFP, that even incomplete fossil finds were important in helping to understand more about the platypus.
The Riversleigh fossil beds where the tooth was unearthed is a rich source for fossilized remains and is actually located in a desert region. As would befit the mammalian platypus, it was once an area covered by forests. The giant platypus, scientists believe, would have spent much of its time around freshwater ponds, eating crustaceans, turtles, frogs, and fish.
However, platypus fossil discoveries are rare, making the "Godzilla" platypus unearthing even more fortuitous to the study of the exotic animal.
The find is also pushing researchers to reevaluate the species' evolutionary trail. It is not believed to be an immediate ancestor to the modern platypus. Being a "huge platypus at the wrong time," as Prof. Archer put it, the relatively giant species suggests that the theory that the animal had lost its teeth and become a smaller version of itself over time is incorrect.
Researchers are hoping that further findings will shed light not only on "platypus-zilla" but on the entire evolutionary tree of a species that resembles more a mad scientist's odd genetic experiment than a misfit of natural selection.