Rare white platypus spotted in northern NSW

By Louise Streeting, University of New England 1 November 2023
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Turtle researchers working in the New England Tablelands region have documented repeated sightings of a white platypus.

Have you ever been lucky enough to be walking along a stream, and had a platypus surface nearby?

If you remained still and quiet, the elusive creature (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) may have dabbled on the water’s surface for a few minutes before diving to continue foraging for food on the bottom of the stream.

So, imagine how we felt seeing a white platypus, its pale fur standing in stark contrast to the classic brown appearance we’re familiar with.

Image credit: Louise Streeting

A fascinating discovery

As turtle researchers, we frequently encounter platypus during our fieldwork, which is always a delightful experience.

However, in 2021, while conducting surveys for endangered freshwater turtles along a tributary of the Gwydir River in the New England Tablelands, my team and I made a fascinating discovery.

A white platypus surfaced right alongside us!

It stayed on the surface just long enough for us to capture a short video before disappearing with a splash.

We stared at each other in disbelief before erupting with excitement.

The animal’s fur was bright white, but its feet and bill were dark, suggesting the animal is a leucistic form, with reduced pigmentation, rather than an albino, which would lack pigmentation altogether.

Video credit: Louise Streeting

Repeated sightings

We have now sighted the white platypus on 10 different occasions, during the past two years.

This intrigues us because intuitively such a conspicuous animal may not survive long in the wild because it’s so easily spotted by potential predators such as foxes, cats, and birds of prey.

To appreciate the rarity of our observation, we conducted an extensive search of historical and scientific records dating as far back as 1803 and found only 12 documented instances of white or albino platypus.

We documented our observations of the white platypus, along with photos and videos of this rare colour morph in an article published this week in Australian Mammalogy.

Platypuses are incredibly unique animals and we feel privileged to have the opportunity to observe them in the wild.

But we feel especially fortunate to have encountered such an unusual colour morph.

Louise Streeting is a zoology PhD student at the University of New England, in NSW.

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