Platypuses are elusive animals, and spotting one in the wild can be tricky. But that makes it all the more special when you do. 

If you live near a creek or river with good vegetation and you’ve got these tricks up your sleeve, you might just spot one of these secretive animals.

And if you can get a photo and upload your observation to a free science app or website you’ll be helping protect them in the process. Even better!

4 tips for spotting a platypus in the wild

Pool_at_Broken_River.jpgPhoto: Grumpy Turtle Creative

1. Find a good spot 

Platypuses need healthy waterways to live in. Look out for sections of creeks and rivers with a good bit of bush along the banks — think trees, shrubs, ferns — with good, flowing water and places for platypuses to duck and dive as they search for tucker among rocks and logs. Find a spot where the water is calm, so you can see any ripples the animals might make.

Viewing_platform.jpgPhoto: Grumpy Turtle Creative

However, the best spot is one you can safely get to without risking harm to yourself or any wildlife. Avoid spots that are too steep or slippery, and make sure the land is either publicly accessible or that you have permission from the landowner.

Be safe, use common sense, and take care not to disturb plants or animals.

Photo: Pete Walsh

2. Find a good time

Platypuses are active mainly at night, so for most of the year the best times to see them are at dawn or dusk. In winter and early spring they’re more active during the day too, as the colder weather means they need more food so have to spend more time finding it. This is handy for humans who are hoping to see one.

Spring is a great time of year to go looking for a platypus. It’s warmer and brighter for us, but still cool enough that platypuses will be more active. 

Ripples_Canarvon_gorge.png Photo: Grumpy Turtle Creative

3. Keep a keen eye out

There’s no mistaking a platypus up close — the duck-bill, webbed feet and fur coat give them away. But those features are harder to make out from a distance. 

  • Keep an eye out for ripples in the water — a sign that a platypus might be out and about. Look for well-formed ‘bulls-eye’ ripples or a narrow v-shaped wake in the water, both signature platypus ripples. 
  • Look for features that distinguish a platypus from rakali, or native water-rat. Both will float low in the water with sometimes only their head and body visible. If you can see their tail, you’ll notice rakali have a long tail with a white tip, while a platypus has a short, flat, rounded tail.
  • Look for the tell-tale movements. A platypus on the move will tend to travel along the surface of the water, diving for about a minute and then resurfacing in the same spot. A rakali will dive and swim below the water, resurfacing further away.

Photo: Grumpy Turtle Creative

4. Prepare to share

If you’re lucky enough to spot a platypus we highly encourage you to share your observations! By uploading your sighting to a free public science app or website, ecologists can access the information and use it in their research.

To make an observation we recommend you:

  • Aim to get a photo! A photo captured on a phone, even at a distance, is great. Good gear like a DSLR camera or long-lens can help too.
  • Make notes of things you noticed, like the movements of the platypus or the vegetation along the waterway. You can use notes if you weren’t able to get a photo.
  • Capture the location. If your phone has location settings in the camera app (most do by default) this will be captured automatically. Otherwise you can use a phone or GPS to take down location or at a pinch you can estimate it after.
  • Upload your observation! This is the most important step. We recommend you upload your sighting to an app like iNaturalist, platypusSPOT, or BioCollect. You can access these via the browser on your desktop computer, or you can download the app. 

Photo: Grumpy Turtle Creative

The more we understand about healthy platypus habitat, the more we can do to protect the platypus.

We’d love to hear about your platypus encounters. If you’ve seen one send an email to [email protected]

Don’t live near platypus habitat? You can still help! Sign the petition to protect the platypus.

 

References

Australian Platypus Monitoring  Network: How to spot a platypus in the wild

Victorian Naturalist: Monthly variation in observed activity of the Platypus Ornithorhynchus anatinus

PlatypusSPOT: Platypus or Ratypus (sorry!): How to distinguish platypus from rakali

 

Header image: Pete Walsh

Maggie Riddington

Nature Outreach Organiser