Body condition is an important aspect of the health of any animal. The current standard method of body condition assessment in the platypus is the tail volume index (TVI). Although the tail is the largest repository of fat in the platypus, the reliability of TVI has not been adequately demonstrated. The aims of this study were, first to assess performance of the TVI, and second, to develop and evaluate performance of new techniques for routine field assessment of platypus body condition. Morphometric data were collected under anaesthesia from 137 adult wild platypuses (74 males, 63 females) captured in north-west Tasmania; ultrasound images of tail fat were also collected from 100 of these individuals (54 males, 46 females). Three new indices for platypus body condition were identified. An objective tail fat index (Relative Tail Fat Volume: RTFVTBL) was developed, based on cross-sectional area measurements taken from detailed ultrasound images compared with total body length (TBL). Two body condition indices intended for routine field use were developed – one based on body mass (mb) and bill width (BW) (Body Condition Index; BCIBW), and the other based on a single linear ultrasonographic measurement of tail fat depth and BW (Relative Fat Depth; RFDBW). Results indicated that RFDBW outperforms TVI as an index of platypus tail fat. Further work, however, is needed to determine the relationship between tail fat and total body fat in the platypus before conclusions can be drawn about the effectiveness of BCIBW as a body condition index.
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