Platypus Matters: The Extraordinary Story of Australian Mammals

By Jack Ashby

Winner of the Whitley Award for Best Natural History Book 2022

A compelling, funny, first-hand account of Australia’s wonderfully unique mammals and how our perceptions impact their future.

Think of a platypus: they lay eggs (that hatch into so-called platypups), they produce milk without nipples and venom without fangs and they can detect electricity. Or a wombat: their teeth never stop growing, they poo cubes and they defend themselves with reinforced rears. Platypuses, possums, wombats, echidnas, devils, kangaroos, quolls, dibblers, dunnarts, kowaris: Australia has some truly astonishing mammals with incredible, unfamiliar features. But how does the world regard these creatures? And what does that mean for their conservation?
In Platypus Matters, naturalist Jack Ashby shares his love for these often-misunderstood animals. Informed by his own experiences meeting living marsupials and egg-laying mammals on fieldwork in Tasmania and mainland Australia, as well as his work with thousands of zoological specimens collected for museums over the last 200-plus years, Ashby’s tale not only explains the extraordinary lives of these animals, but the historical mysteries surrounding them and the myths that persist (especially about the platypus). He also reveals the toll these myths can take.
Ashby makes it clear that calling these animals ‘weird’ or ‘primitive’ – or incorrectly implying that Australia is an ‘evolutionary backwater’ – a perception that can be traced back to the country’s colonial history – has undermined conservation: Australia now has the worst mammal extinction rate of anywhere on Earth. Important, timely and written with humour and wisdom by a scientist and self-described platypus nerd, this celebration of Australian wildlife will open eyes and change minds about how we contemplate and interact with the natural world – everywhere.

Format: ebook
Release Date: 12 May 2022
Pages: None
ISBN: 978-0-00-843145-7
Jack Ashby is the assistant director of the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge, and an honorary research fellow in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at University College London. He is the author of Animal Kingdom: A Natural History in 100 Objects and lives in Hertfordshire.

”'Charming, informative … a marvellous read” - Tim Flannery, New York Review of Books

”'Ashby reveals marvellous creatures, and the mysteries and myths surrounding them” - BBC Wildlife magazine

”'Ashby’s spirited tour of the Australian bestiary is a revelation to readers unfamiliar with the intricacies of platypus biology, and unacquainted with nabarleks, dunnarts and other indigenous Australian fauna.” - Natural History

”'Building on his considerable scientific knowledge and decades of field experience, Ashby immerses readers in all things platypus … A must-read for any mammal nerd or Aussie wildlife enthusiast.” - Nature Conservancy's Cool Green Science

”'An engaging natural (and enraging colonial) history” - Washington Independent Review of Books

”'From platypuses and possums, through wombats, echidnas, devils and kangaroos, to quolls, dibblers, dunnarts and kowaris, Ashby knows them all; and he guides his readers on a tour of their lives, their evolutionary stories and the challenges they face in the modern world.” - The Well-read Naturalist

”'Fascinating … This is wonderfully dorky stuff … A persistently, defiantly upbeat book, downright infused with Ashby’s scientific exuberance” - Open Letters Review

”'Keen to overturn the warped, colonial perception that monotremes (e.g. platypuses and echidnas) and marsupials are more primitive than other mammal species, the zoologist author who runs Cambridge's Natural History Museum takes us on a tour of the fauna of Australia in all their glory …Engaging and entertaining” - Bookseller

”'This is a compelling, funny, firsthand account of our wonderfully unique mammals and how our perceptions of them impact their future.” - Australian Geographic

”'Ashby has an infectious enthusiasm for Aussie marsupials and monotremes” - West Australian

”'Written in a lively, conversational style and drawing on decades of fieldwork, this is a beguiling portrait of our unique fauna.” - Sydney Morning Herald