Of course, you know what a marsupial is, a mammal that carries its young in a natural pouch on its stomach.
The kangaroo comes immediately into mind, and so does Australia.
But there are many other marsupials in addition to the kangaroo, and not all are indigenous to Australia or to the adjacent islands.
The opossum, for example, lives right here in North America.
All marsupials do have one thing in common: the extraordinary way in which they bear their young.
Baby marsupials are incompletely developed, and very small, a newborn kangaroo may be only an inch long!
The young nurse for several months within their mother’s pouch, or marsupium, to complete their development.
The Australian marsupials were virtually unknown until Captain James Cook visited Australia in 1770.
When Cook saw his first kangaroo, he thought he’d found a gigantic leaping rodent.
We now know that the marsupials form their own order within the mammal family, an order that includes some of the most unusual looking creatures on earth.
This small Australian native looks just like a toy teddy bear. But he gets his name from an aboriginal term meaning “no water,” for this cute creature never drinks water in his entire life. He’s a fussy eater, though: A koala will eat only the leaves of the eucalyptus tree, and spends almost all his time in one of these trees, munching on the leaves.
This rabbitlike marsupial spends most of the day inside his burrow, emerging at night to feed on worms and insects. Bandicoots are fairly pugnacious, and fight by leaping into the air and striking at each other with their hind feet. There are about a dozen species, all native to Austrailia and adjacent islands.
The most familiar American marsupial, the opossum, has given his name to the defensive ploy of playing dead when threatened by a predator—though a number of other animals similarly “play possum.” This cowardly creature, one of the most prolific of mammals, bears two or three litters each year, with as many as 18 bee-sized babies in each litter.
A close relative of the opossum found in South and Central America.
Often called “native badgers” because of their strength and burrowing abilities, wombats are closely related to another Australian marsupial, the koala. This shy, gentle herbivore can grow up to three feet in length.
The wallaby is more closely related to the kangaroo than any of the other marsupials. In fact, many of the larger wallabies are commonly called kangaroos or bush kangaroos in their homeland, Australia. The smaller wallabies are about the size of a rabbit. They spend their days in rock crevices, and feed on grass at night.
This strong, carnivorous marsupial has proven to be a devil to many Australian sheep and poultry farmers. About the size of a badger, with large, powerful jaws, the Tasmanian devil spends his days in his burrow, and comes out at night to hunt.