Trivia · Word of the week

Word of the week: monotreme

Here’s another Word of the Week prompted by TV quiz shows, like earlier examples capercaillie, quotidian and Cadillac. Those last two words were on recent episodes of “The 100k Drop”, and so was “monotreme”, in the following question:

“In biology which of these words refers to egg-laying mammals?”
Options: Monotreme / Cetacean / Marsupial

The contestants were on question 6 and had £10,000 left. They split it between Cetacean and Monotreme, one of which is the right answer. That left them with £5,000 for the final question:

“Which of these suspension bridges has the larger distance between its towers?”
Options: Humber Bridge / Golden Gate Bridge

They correctly chose the Humber Bridge (1410m between its towers, compared to 1280m for the Golden Gate) to win the £5,000. If they had also known that a monotreme is an egg-laying mammal, they would have won double that amount.

There are two species of monotreme: the duck-billed platypus and the echidna, or spiny anteater. defines monotreme as “any animal of the Monotremata, the most primitive order of mammals, characterized by certain birdlike and reptilian features, as hatching young from eggs, and having a single opening for the digestive, urinary, and genital organs, comprising only the duckbill and the echidnas of Australia and New Guinea.”

Monotremes are mammals, so they feed their young with milk. Their ability to produce eggs and milk has led Anne Hegerty (the Governess on ITV’s “The Chase”) to describe them as the only animals that can make their own custard. It’s a good line, and I have heard her make this observation in at least two editions of the show. It has helped me to remember the word, and the unique feature of these mammals.

As a child I read something about the duck-billed platypus, possibly in a magazine like “Look and Learn” or “World of Wonder”, but if it was described as a monotreme the word didn’t stick in my mind. I never read either magazine in much detail, just flicked through looking at the pictures most of the time. My older brother might have got more out of them than I did. “Cetacean” is another word that I have only come to know from watching TV. It describes aquatic mammals such as whales, dolphins and porpoises. “Marsupial” is a much more familiar term, describing mammals like kangaroos and koalas that carry their young in pouch. Thanks to quiz shows I am now equally familiar with the word monotreme. Some day I might even get to see one.




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