The order Monotremata (MAHN-oh-truh-MAHT-uh), the monotremes, is the only order in the subclass Prototheria. Because monotremes lay eggs, biologists consider this order to be very ancient, meaning that monotremes existed before other kinds of mammals did. Just three species exist today: the platypus and two echidna species.

The duckbill platypus, shown in Figure 43-11a, is adapted to life around rivers or streams in Australia. It has waterproof fur, webbed feet, and a flattened tail that aids in swimming. It uses its wide, flat, leathery bill to find worms, crayfish, and other invertebrates in soft mud. The female platypus digs a den in a riverbank to lay her eggs and curls around the eggs to protect and warm them. The babies lick milk from mammary glands on the mother's abdomen.

The two echidna species live in dry woodlands or deserts in Australia and New Guinea. As shown in Figure 43-11b, they have protective spines, a long snout, and a sticky tongue used to feed on ants and other insects (though they are unrelated to other mammal anteaters). Echidnas incubate their eggs in a pouch on the belly.

figure 43-11

Two of the three species of the order Monotremata are shown here: the duckbill platypus (a) and an echidna that is also called a spiny anteater (b).

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