BY MARGIE THOMSON

Combining the distinctive parts of mammal, reptile and bird, the paradoxical platypus confounded taxonomic categories and caused astonishment, disbelief and heated debate among 18th and 19th century naturalists after its discovery in Australia.

This history of the platypus controversy dovetails nicely with the scientific debates that erupted around the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859, and that era of terrific intellectual challenge as religion reluctantly slid over to make room for the new science.

With our 21st-century sensibility we can be appalled, as Moyal obviously is, at science's ruthlessness as, in its march over "the solid ground of observation" it also trampled over the bodies of thousands of platypuses, slaughtered in order to discover, finally, in 1884 that the platypus is an egg-laying mammal.

A lovely tribute to an elusive and endearing creature.

Allen and Unwin

$39.95