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Re: Platypuses may be older than we think...

On Wed, 24 Oct 2007, K and T Dykes wrote:
This next quoted sentence puzzles rather than entertains: "Since no other mammal, including echidnas, can surpass the electro-detection abilities of the platypus, researchers had thought this was a relatively new skill that the animal evolved."

As water conducts electricity better than air does, it'd be surprising if echidnas could manage the same levels of this here electro-detection.

A bit dated, but:

Sensory receptors in monotremes.
Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 1998 July 29; 353(1372): 11871198.
U Proske, J E Gregory, and A Iggo
The structures in the skin responsible for the electric sense have been identified as sensory mucous glands with an expanded epidermal portion that is innervated by large-diameter nerve fibres. Afferent recordings have shown that in both platypuses and echidnas the receptors excited by cathodal (negative) pulses and inhibited by anodal (positive) pulses. Estimates give a total of 40,000 mucous sensory glands in the upper and lower bill of the platypus, whereas there are only about 100 in the tip of the echidna snout.

400 to 1!

More interesting is that these terrestrial critters are apparently* rigged up for this art. Both the long- and the short-beaked echidnas have electro-receptors, with New Guniea's long-beaked ones being the more talented of the pair in this regard. I can't think of any particular use these abilities might provide for terrestrial echidnas, but perhaps there's something lacking in my imagination. To me, this suggests it's a relatively old skill inherited from a presumably semi-aquatic common ancestor. Of course, there may have been some researchers somewhere thinking along the lines the journalist reports.