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When the first specimen of a platypus arrived in England in 1799 it was greeted with astonishment and disbelief. It defied rational explanation, with its webbed feet and duck's beak attached to what seemed to be a mammal's body. As eighteenth century naturalists struggled to classify the platypus, the little animal excited curiosity and sparked fierce debate in international scientific circles, drawing in leaders of zoology and comparative anatomy in Britain and Europe. This is the enigmatic story of a biological riddle that confounded scientists for nearly ninety years, challenging theories of creationism, evolution and the classification of species along the way.
AcknowledgementsIntroduction1. 'This Highly Interesting Novelty'2. The Frenchmen's Gaze3. Marshalling the Animals4. The Wrangling Scientists5. The Land of Contrarieties6. The First Hard Look7. The Paper War8. Darwin's Platypus9. To the Antipodes10. The Clash of Titans11. Solving the Mystery12. The New Men13. 'The Platypus Man'14. The Platypus Goes to War15. 'The Animal of All time'GlossaryA Word on SourcesIllustrationsIndex
Ann Moyal is a well-known historian of Australian science and has held research and teaching positions at a number of Australian universities. She has written many books and articles and is founder and past-president of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia. She now lives in Canberra.
'In this remote part of the earth, Nature (having made horses, oxen, ducks, geese, oaks, elms, and all regular productions for the rest of the world) seems determined to have a bit of a play, and to amuse herself as she pleases.' Rev Sydney Smith, Sydney, 1819.