Skip to Main Content
It looks like you're using Internet Explorer 11 or older. This website works best with modern browsers such as the latest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge. If you continue with this browser, you may see unexpected results.
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

Platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) Fact Sheet: Managed Care

History of Managed Care

Zoos, general

  • 1831: Earliest report of platypuses in managed care (Jackson 2003)
    • Kept for a short period of time—about two weeks
  • Early 1900s: Naturalist Harry J. Burrell’s first efforts to keep platypuses in managed care (Burrell 1927; Crandall 1964; Moyal 2001)
    • Designed a portable artificial habitat called the “platypusary”
      • Innovative in managed care of the platypus
      • Water tank for swimming and feeding, ledges out of water for resting, wooden tunnels to dry fur and burrow
    • 1910: Resulted in first public exhibition of a platypus in a zoo (Moore Park/Sydney Zoological Gardens) (Barrett 1941; Cushing and Markwell 2009)
    • Burrell’s work provided a foundation for later husbandry and transport efforts (Crandall 1964)
    • Also see “History” in Cultural History
  • 1922: First live platypus exhibited outside Australia at Bronx Zoo (New York Zoological Park) (Barrett 1941; Bridges, undated)
    • Thought to be the first export of a platypus from Australia (Cushing and Markwell 2009)
    • Survived only six weeks (Cushing and Markwell 2009)
  • 1932-37: Platypuses at Healesville Sanctuary
    • 1932: first platypus acquired (Sharpe 1994b)
    • 1933-1937: Robert Eadie was keeper of “Splash,” a platypus that became especially popular with public audiences (Crandall 1964; Sharpe 1994b, except as noted)
      • Lived longer than previous platypuses in managed care; established longer viability for this species
      • Helped to advance husbandry knowledge of this species (Fleay 1944a)
  • 1937: David Fleay began keeping female platypus “Barwon” at Melbourne Zoo (Crandall 1964)
    • Lived for nearly five years at the zoo
  • 1943-1947: Australian Government used live platypuses as diplomatic gifts to allied nations during WWII (Cushing and Markwell 2009)
    • Winston Churchill was sent a live platypus (died en-route due to malnutrition), as well as the preserved, mounted remains of “Splash”
  • 1944: first breeding in managed care by David Fleay (then Director at Healesville Sanctuary) (Fleay 1944a; Fleay 1944b; Sharpe 1994a; Hawkins and Battaglia 2009, except as noted)
    • “Jill” (female), “Jack” (male), and "Corry” (young) garnered international media and public attention, even in the midst of war
    • Next captive breeding did not occur until 1999 (Cushing and Markwell 2009)
  • 1947: David Fleay transported three platypuses (“Betty,” “Penelope,” and “Cecil”) by ship from Australia for exhibition at the Bronx Zoo (Fleay 1958; Crandall 1964)
    • Designated as a gift to President Harry S. Truman (see discussion by Cushing and Markwell 2009)
    • Received immense media attention (Cushing and Markwell 2009)
    • Visits by the public continued for years (Cushing and Markwell 2009)
  • 1958: David Fleay delivered three more platypuses (by air) to the Bronx Zoo (Cushing and Markwell 2009)

San Diego Zoo Safari Park

  • 2019: San Diego Zoo Safari Park receives 2 platypuses, Eve and Birra, from Sydney's Taronga Zoo (San Diego Zoo Global Public Relations 2019)
    • Housed at Nelson M. Millsberg Platypus Habitat in Walkabout Australia (Safari Park)
    • First export of platypuses from Australia since 1958

Husbandry

General

  • Not widely collected—very difficult to keep in managed care settings (Whittington 1993b; Cushing and Markwell 2009)
    • Underfeeding, over-handling, and stress (e.g., due to noise, vibrations, temperature fluctuations) can result in illness and death (Jackson 2003; McColl 1983; Cushing and Markwell 2009)
  • Rarely exported from Australia (Cushing and Markwell 2009)
    • Pair exported to San Diego Zoo Safari Park in 2019 (SDZG Public Relations 2019)
    • Before that, last platypus exported from Australia in 1958 (Cushing and Markwell 2009; Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)
  • Due to presence of venomous spurs, handling of male platypuses requires safety precautions (Grant 2015)
    • Can be handled safely only by grasping the top side of the tail, with arm and all body parts well clear of platypus’ body (Booth and Connolly 2008; Grant 2015)
  • Handling, in general, should be kept to a minimum (Jackson 2003)
  • Platypuses respond well to routines in their daily care (Jackson 2003)
    • Become accustomed to individual keepers

Housing and shelters

  • Air and water temperatures higher than 27°C (80°F) should be avoided (Booth and Connolly 2008)
    • Temperatures above 30°C (86°F) are lethal (Grant 2015)
  • Platypus need a water tank for feeding and exercise (Booth and Connolly 2008)
  • Require a tunnel system connected to nest boxes (Booth and Connolly 2008)
    • Hatches for keeper access needed along tunnels
  • Grooming platforms may be placed at tunnel entrances (Crandall 1964; Booth and Connolly 2008)
  • Enclosure structures should be smooth (Whittington 1993a; Booth and Connolly 2008) and not pose a risk of entanglement (Jackson 2003)
    • Severe abrasions can lead to infections
      • Superficial wounds often heal (Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)
    • Bill and feet can be injured
    • Physical trauma can lead to death (Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)
  • Enclosure should have: (Booth and Connolly 2008)
    • Escape-proof latches, walls, and roof
    • Predator-proof roof
    • Submerged and partially submerged branches
    • Ledges and overhangs for grooming and shelter
    • During mating season, nesting materials (grasses and leaves)
  • Housing areas should be kept clean (see Jackson 2003)
  • Considerations for housing platypuses together
    • Adult males should not be housed together (Jackson 2003; Booth and Connolly 2008)
      • Territorial and aggressive towards other males
    • Adult females may compete for food and show aggression towards each other, particularly during breeding season (Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)
      • May need to be fed in separate pools
      • In some cases, logs or branches can be used to provide visual barriers to reduce possibility of aggressive behavior
    • Males and females should only be housed in enclosures designed for this purpose (Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)
      • Contain additional space and places for females to hide (Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)
      • “Passing lane” in tunnel system allows male and female to easily pass each other (Andrew Munro, personal communication, 2018)
        • May spar if in confined spaces
      • Individuals may need to be separated outside of breeding season to prevent male's intense pursuit of females (Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)

Diet and feeding

  • Require large amounts of live food (Jackson 2003; Crandall 1964; Sharpe 1994b; Booth and Connolly 2008) — 13-20% of body weight (Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018))
    • Lactating females can consume up to 100-150% of body weight, daily
    • Video: Zoos Victoria (diet footage begins at 0:55)
  • Platypuses at Healesville Sanctuary fed ad libitum (i.e., as much and as often as desired) (Thomas et al. 2017; Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)
  • Example prey items (Booth and Connolly 2008, except as noted)
    • Note: These prey have been reported in research articles but this is not an example of a recommended diet regime. See Thomas et al. (2017) for information on prey provided for platypuses at Healesville Sanctuary.
    • Worms
      • Mealworms
      • Earthworms
      • Tubifex worms
    • Small freshwater invertebrates
      • Crayfish
      • Fly pupae
      • Shrimp
      • Prawns (live)
    • Small fish
      • Goldfish
      • Trout fingerlings
    • Aquatic insect larvae
    • Grubs (Crandall 1964)
    • Tadpoles (Jackson 2003; Crandall 1964)
    • Crickets (Jackson 2003)
  • Seasonal changes in diet
    • Eat more before and after breeding (Thomas et al. 2017)
      • Eat less during breeding

Breeding

  • Challenging to breed in managed care (Hawkins and Battaglia 2009)
    • Successfully bred at a small number of zoos (e.g., Healesville, Taronga) (Hawkins and Battaglia 2009)
      • Only 4 females successfully bred, as of 2019 (Bino et al. 2019)
    • Healesville Sanctuary raised 10 offspring from 2008-2015 (Thomas et al. 2018)
  • When receptive in spring, females switch behavior—from avoiding males to initiating contact with males (Hawkins and Battaglia 2009)
    • Males also initiate premating interactions
  • Premating interactions (in water) (Hawkins and Fanning 1992; Hawkins and Battaglia 2009)
    • Chasing (by male)
    • Nuzzling
    • Swimming together, spiraling
    • Tail biting (by male)
  • Mate in water or possibly in burrow (Hawkins and Battaglia 2009)
  • After mating, female prepares burrow; collects wet nesting material (Hawkins and Battaglia 2009)
    • Earth mound should be provided (Jackson 2003)
  • Female spends more time foraging during lactation (Holland and Jackson 2002; Hawkins and Battaglia 2009)
    • Greater energy demands due to milk production
  • Female spends less time with young as nestlings grow and are ready to emerge from the burrow (Holland and Jackson 2002; Hawkins and Battaglia 2009)
    • Visits young for only very short periods in the last month of care

Enrichment and training

(Jackson 2003; Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)

  • Enrichment
    • Live food
    • Creation of water movement (e.g., waterfall)
      • Waterfall
      • Water jets
      • Bubbles
    • Floating objects (bark, logs)
    • Complexity in burrow design
    • Dirt for female to dig burrow
    • Nesting materials for female (grasses and leaves)
    • Substrates similar to river bottom in the wild (bark, rocks, etc.)
    • Changes in water levels to simulate drought or flood
    • Regular change in furnishings to simulate changing river environment
  • Behavior training
    • Used to assess health (Jessica Thomas, personal communication, 2018)
      • Food or enrichment objects used while checking body condition

Platypus Husbandry

Platypus dives at Taronga Zoo, Australia

A platypus explores its home at the Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia.

In zoos, platypuses require water tanks for feeding and exercise. Moving water features can provide enrichment.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Image location: Taronga Zoo, Sydney, Australia

SDZWA Library Links