Skull on display at the American Museum of Natural History, NYC
Reconstruction by Anne Musser
When: Late Oligocene to Miocene (~25 to 12 Million years ago)
What: Obdurodon is a fossil platypus, as is fairly obvious from a look at its skull. Though upon closer inspection there are some very important differences; Obdurodon had a larger bill than the living platypus and retained teeth as an adult. Modern adult platypus are toothless, shedding all their teeth as juveniles. These teeth are important as they help us place monotremes (platypus and the echidna are the modern representatives) into the mammal family tree. It is now the consensus that marsupials and placentals are more closely related to one another than either is to the monotremes, but there are a great deal of extinct groups of mammals that may fall between therians and the monotremes - such as the multituberculates. Fossils such as Obdurodon which are most assuredly related to modern monotremes, but preserve more primitive features, are critically important for this phylogenetic issue. So then why is it still an issue? All we have of Obdurodon is a skull, despite the full body reconstruction above, and while there are fossils of even older monotremes they are even more scrappy - just isolated teeth or jaw fragments (that still enjoy full body reconstructions…).
How did Obdurodon live compared to the modern platypus? Well, the living form uses its bill in the water to help it sense prey, and as Obdurodon had an even larger bill, it seem likely it also was aquatic, though without a postcranial skeleton it is unknown if it had the same swimming and digging adaptions seen in its extant relatives.