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The development of the electroreceptors of the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus).

  • P R Manger
  • R Collins
  • J D Pettigrew
Publication Date
Jul 29, 1998


A series of developmental stages of the platypus were examined to obtain an anatomical description of the development of the periphery of the electroreceptive system. Putative electroreceptors, composed of modified mucous glands, were observed to appear at 10 days post hatching (p.h.). The typical striped arrangement of peripheral electroreceptors in the platypus was seen at 12 days p.h. The arrangement of the stripes was modified during development with a range of additions and divisions of stripes occurring until the adult pattern is obtained, approximately 6 months p.h. After appearing at 10 days p.h., the number of electroreceptors increases rapidly until sometime between 24 and 28 days p.h. when there is massive death of electroreceptors, the number present at 28 days p.h. being 60% of the number present at 24 days p.h. This massive death of receptors is coincident with the appearance of other sensory structures in the epidermis of the bill skin, the push-rod mechanoreceptors and the sensory serous glands. Histological examination of a range of developmental stages demonstrated poorly differentiated innervation at 28 days p.h., which became differentiated and reached the adult configuration between 11 weeks p.h. and 6 months p.h., the time at which nestling platypuses leave the burrow. Lamination of the cells lining the duct of the electroreceptors showed a similar developmental profile. This study indicates that the electroreceptive system of the developing platypus is not functional, in a similar manner to the adult, until it is time for the platypus to leave the nesting burrow. However, the system may be functional in the developing platypus, and may be used speculatively in the location of the mammary region for suckling.

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