Marsupials

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Marsupials evolved in North America, found their way to South America, and then into Australia via Antarctica when the southern continents were joined as Gondwana. In Australia they diversified to fill many niches. Most of the 140 species of marsupials in Australia are found nowhere else in the world; some of them are also found in New Guinea which was connected to Australia in more recent geological times.

A marsupium or pouch is one of the features that characterise marsupials although not all have a permanent pouch and a few have none at all. They are similar to mammals in being covered in fur and bearing live young which are suckled by the mother. In marsupials the gestation period is very short resulting in the birth of undeveloped young. Although blind, without fur, and with hindlimbs only partially formed these tiny newborns have well developed forelimbs with claws that enable them to make their way into the pouch and attach to a teat and continue their development.

The trade-off of the short pregnancy is the lengthy period of lactation during which the young remain in the pouch and the composition of the milk produced by the mother changes depending on the developmental stage  of the young. Here is an overview of the diversity of marsupials that inhabit Australia.

This survey details the main groupings of marsupials based primarily on the taxonomic level of Family but in a couple of instances similar Families are combined. For each grouping, the features of the group are shown rather than detailed data on any one animal.  There is also a list of all marsupials to help in locating a particular animal within its grouping.Select one of the following for information on the Family/Families: Koala, Carnivorous marsupials, Wombats, Numbat, Kangaroos & Relatives, Bandicoots & Bilbies, Possums & Gliders, Marsupial, moles.

Marsupial Species in Australia

Koalas

The koala is the sole representative of this family; its closest relatives are the wombats. Koalas live on eucalyptus leaves and spend most of their time in trees sleeping during the day. The pouch is backward opening.

Family Vombatidae

There are 3 species in this family; the common wombat and the two hairy-nosed wombats (northern and southern). They have sturdy bodies and strong limbs for digging the burrows in which they sleep, hibernate, and raise their young. Active at night, they feed on grasses and herbs. Like the koala, the pouch is backward opening.

Numbat

  Family Myrmecobiidae

The numbat is the only representative of this Family. Its distribution is restricted to southwest WA but numbers are thought to be increasing.

Features:

  • diurnal but activity depends on soil temperature :
    – in winter, active during the day
    – in summer, active in morning and late afternoon
  • at night, rests in a nest in hollow logs and burrows
  • no pouch
  • a number of distinct white bands on its lower back

Diet:

  • termites

Bandicoots & Bilbies

Features:

  • rat-sized
  • long snout
  • pointed teeth
  • run on all 4 feet
  • nocturnal; rest in a nest on the ground during the day

Diet:

  • insects, worms, seeds, berries
FamilyAnimalNumber of species
  PeramelidaeBandicoots
Bilbies
6
1
  PeroryctidaeNew Guinea Bandicoots1

Marsupial Mole

Order Notoryctemorphia / Family Notoryctidae The sole member of this Family is found in sandy, desert areas of central Australia.

Features:

  • blind
  • no external ears
  • forelimbs are specialised for digging and sand-swimming
  • backwards-opening pouch
  • lives underground

Diet:

  • insect larvae and pupae, ants

More on this topic

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