Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Electroreception and electrolocation in platypus


Electroreceptors with sensitivity in the microvolt range, which mainly function to detect live prey, are well known in phylogenetically old fishes and some amphibians1–4. In African mormyriform and South American gymnotiform fishes this sense has evolved to an active system using an electric organ as a source for impedance measurement of the environment and for communication5,6. Electroreception in higher vertebrates has not previously been reported. Here we establish that the platypus, the Australian nocturnal diving monotreme, can locate and avoid objects on the basis of d.c. fields. High–frequency sensitivity to a.c. could allow the detection of muscle activity of animals, such as crustaceans, which are preyed on by the platypus. Recordings of cortical evoked potentials showed that the bill of the platypus, previously considered to be exclusively mechanoreceptive7–9, is also an electroreceptive organ with behavioural and electrophysiological sensitivity of 50 µV cm−1. Several lines of evidence suggest that electroreception has evolved independently in this monotreme.

This is a preview of subscription content

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.


All prices are NET prices.


  1. Bullock, T. H. A. Rev. Neurosci. 5, 121–170 (1982).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Fritzsch, B. & Wahnschaffe, U. Cell Tissue Res. 229, 483–503 (1983).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Kalmijn, A. J. in Handbook of Sensory Physiology Vol. III/3, 147–200 (Springer, Berlin, 1974).

    Google Scholar 

  4. Scheich, H. in Biophysics, 764–776 (Springer, Berlin, 1983).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Heiligenberg, W. Principles of Electrolocation and Jamming Avoidance in Electric Fish (Springer, Berlin, 1977).

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Scheich, H. & Bullock, T. H. in Handbook of Sensory Physiology Vol. III/3 201–256 (Springer, Berlin, 1974).

    Google Scholar 

  7. Bohringer, R. C. & Rowe, M. J. J. comp. Neurol. 174, 1–14 (1977).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Poulton, E. B. J. Physiol., Lond. 5, 15–16 (1885).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Wilson, J. T. & Martin, C. J. Linn. Soc. NSW, Macleay mem. Vol., 190–200 (1893).

  10. Digkgraaf, S. & Kalmijn, A. J. Z. vergl. Physiol. 47, 438–456 (1963).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Himstedt, W., Kopp, J. & Schmidt, W. Naturwissenschaftern 69, 552 (1982).

    ADS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Crowther, A. B. Pap. Proc. R. Soc. Tasm., 96–99 (1879).

  13. Faragher, R. A., Grant, T. R. & Carrick, F. N. Aust. J. Ecol. 4, 171–179 (1979).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Grant, T. R., Williams, R. & Carrick, F. N. Aust. Zool. 19, 117–124 (1977).

    Google Scholar 

  15. Andres, K. H. & von Düring, M. in Sensory Receptor Mechanisms 81–89 (World Science, Singapore, 1984).

    Google Scholar 

  16. Münz, H., Claas, B. & Fritzsch, B. J. comp. Physiol. A 154, 33–44 (1983).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Bennett, M. V. L. in Fish Physiology, 492–600 (Academic, London, 1971).

    Google Scholar 

  18. Szabo, T. in Handbook of Sensory Physiology Vol. III/3, 13–58 (Springer, Berlin, 1974).

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Scheich, H., Langner, G., Tidemann, C. et al. Electroreception and electrolocation in platypus. Nature 319, 401–402 (1986).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

Further reading


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing