In 1798, a stuffed platypus specimen was delivered to the British Museum. At the time, many biologists were sure it was a fake, assembled by a clever taxidermist. Soft brown fur and beaverlike tail put the animal firmly in the mammalian camp. But a ducklike bill and webbed feet suggested an affinity with birds. Reports that the animal laid eggs only added to the confusion. We now know that platypuses burrow in riverbanks and forage for prey under water. Webbing on their feet can be retracted to reveal claws. The highly sensitive bill allows the animal to detect prey even with its eyes and ears tightly shut. To modern biologists, a platypus is clearly a mammal. Like other mammals, it has fur and the females produce milk. Young animals have more typical mammalian teeth that are replaced by hardened pads as the animal matures. Why do you think modern biologists can more easily accept the idea that a mammal can have some reptile-like traits, such as laying eggs? What do they know that gives them an advantage over scientists living in 1798?
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