The Duel for Cool: Monotremes v. Syngnathidae

So, I have been thinking about the brainy echidna since its debut a couple weeks ago in the NYTimes. Bestowed upon it, was probably one of the nicest descriptions about an animal ever written: immaculately private nocturnalist with a surprisingly well-endowed brain.

It seems to me that monotremes (egg laying mammals) are as cool as Syngnathidae (the family of fishes that include the seahorse and the unique feature of male pregnancy). In the case of the echidna, "they lay leathery eggs, as reptiles do, but then feed the so-called puggles that hatch with milk." For seahorses and pipefishes, the females lay the eggs but the males fertilize and carry them. Perhaps because I am a woman of childbearing age, either group sounds more desirable than the human female predicament of (to quote a traumatizing line I remember from Look Who's Talking) squeezing a watermelon through a lemon...


The brainy echidna and a duty-sharing male seahorse.

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The brood pouch in the male seahorse is actually under the abdomen. The picture you are showing is a female seahorse. You can tell by the angle the abdomen connects to the tail is almost 90 degrees.

What I love about the net, is one can stumble upon 2 people discussing male seahorses.

For my money , nothing beats carrying and egg around on the top of your feet , in the dark at -50 F.

Now that's a dad.

There is no duty-sharing in seahorses. In egg-laying, externally fertilizing fish, the childrearing is mostly the male's job (if it is any job at all). The reason is simple: the one of the pair who has a chance to get away first (leaving all the work for the partner) will often do so, thus increasing his chances to produce more offspring with somebody else. The remaining partner is stuck with the clutch (she or he would lose all invested effort by running away too). That's why usually male fish/amphibians (seahorses, mouthbrooders, Darwin's frog) and female mammals have the problem with the babies.

Platypodes are also wonderfully unusual. Some of my favourite facts about them:

1. Males can inject venom from spurs on their ankles. The venom will not kill humans, but is extremely painful and heightens overall sensitivity to pain for a period between a few days and several months.
2. They have ten sex chromosomes, out of a total of 52. Males are âXYXYXYXYXY.â
3. They swim using only their two front legs, though the back two are also webbed.
4. Only the left ovary of females is functional.
5. They have no visible ears.
6. They only use their eyes while above water.
7. Underwater, they can detect electric fields generated by muscular contractions.
8. They lose their three teeth before they first leave their motherâs burrow.
9. They forage for twelve hours a day.
10. They have a body temperature five degrees lower than most other placental mammals.
11. Females lactate through pores in their skin. Milk pools in grooves located on their abdomens.
12. The DNA of one female â named Glennie â has now been sequenced by researchers at Oxford.