A marsupial is any of the taxonomic group of mammals that share certain common characteristics.
These animals carry their young in a pouch, which separates them from other mammals who give live birth. Marsupials also differ because they do not produce milk to feed their offspring. While humans and most other mammals make milk in their mammary glands, a marsupial mother transfers her young to a nipple inside the pouch.
Marsupials live in many habitats and come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Marsupials belong to the mammalian order called Marsupialia, which is also composed of monotremes (egg-laying mammals). The most recognizable marsupial is the kangaroo.
Many people think that all marsupials are from Australia, but they presently live in many places around the world. In addition to Australia and the southeast Asian islands of Indonesia and New Guinea, there are about 100 species of marsupials living in South America and a small number in Central and North America and in the island of Papua New Guinea.
While it is true that marsupial species are exclusive to these geographic locations, the word ‘marsupial’ likely gets its root from an ancient Roman word for a pouch. They make use of the Latin term to describe animals with pouches such as kangaroos and opossums.
Scientists divide marsupials into three groups: the Australidelphia, the Ameridelphia and the Notoryctemorphia. The last group is marsupials native to South America that have a pouch opening toward their hind side. All other marsupials have pouches that open forward.
What are Some Characteristics of Marsupials?
Marsupials are mammals because they have hair, are warm-blooded, and make milk for their young. They also have a relatively simple digestive system in comparison to other animals.
Joeys or newborns are what baby Marsupials are when they are born. The babies are very small, unable to survive on their own, and have to stay inside the pouch until they are older.
Each brand of marsupials is either a Macropod or Micro-Opid. Macropods have longer bodies with long feet for hopping. Opids have smaller bodies with shorter legs for crawling or moving on all fours.
Most marsupials are herbivores (plant-eaters) and eat grains, fruits, and vegetables. The exceptions to this rule are the koalas of Australia and the Tasmanian devil of Tasmania. There are one species of marsupial, the yapok, and it only eats aquatic plants.
All marsupials have a similar organ system that consists of teeth, ears, eyes, and a nose. They have a long tail aids them with balance. Marsupial mothers carry their young in pouches on the outside of their bodies.
What are Some Examples of Marsupials?
The most known marsupial is the kangaroo. However, there are many other types of animals that fall into this category including wallabies, koalas, opossums, and wombats.
How do Marsupials Compare to Other Mammals?
Marsupials are different from placental mammals (including humans) because they do not feed their young milk. Placental mammals give live birth whereas marsupials carry their offspring in a pouch for several months after they are born. The babies then continue to develop outside of the womb.
Some differences that exist between male and female marsupials include sexual reproduction, mammary glands, and parental care. Marsupial males have a pouch called a scrotum that contains the testicles. Mothers carry their young in pouches on their chests or abdomens until they are older.
Many marsupial species are nocturnal, meaning that they are most active during nighttime hours. The exceptions to this rule are some of the kangaroo species which are active during the day.
Marsupials have a shorter gestation period than other mammals. Gestation is a pregnancy term that refers to the length of time between conception and birth. In marsupials, gestation typically lasts around 30 days compared to nine months in placental mammals. The young are born extremely underdeveloped.
Marsupials have a relatively low body temperature of only about 97 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly 20 degrees lower than that of placental mammals. They also have a higher metabolism rate and must eat more often to compensate for the low temperature of their bodies.
Marsupials give birth differently from most other mammals. Rather than having a placenta that is attached directly to the fetus, a marsupial fetus is connected to a teat. The combination of a large head and an undeveloped pelvis causes difficulty with movement during birth which is why young are born very small and undeveloped.