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Marsupial

Marsupials
Scientific classification
Domain:Eukaryota
Kingdom:Animalia
Phylum:Chordata
Class:Mammalia
Subclass:Marsupialia
Orders
Didelphimorphia
Paucituberculata[?]
Microbiotheria
Dasyuromorphia
Peramelemorphia
Notoryctemorphia
Diprotodontia
Marsupials are mammals in which the female typically has a pouch[?] in which it rears its young through early infancy. They differ from placental mammals (Placentalia) in their reproductive traits. The female has two vaginas, each of which leads to a different compartment in the uterus. Males usually have a two-pronged penis which corresponds to the females' two vaginas. The pregnant female develops a kind of yolk sack in her placenta which delivers nutrients to the embryo. The embryo is born at a very early stage of development (at about 4-5 weeks), upon which it crawls up its mother's and attaches itself to a nipple. It remains attached to the nipple for a number of weeks. The offspring later passes through a stage where it temporarily leaves the pouch, returning for warmth and nourishment.

Fossil evidence does not support the once-common belief that marsupials were a primitive forerunner of the placental mammals: both main branches of the mammal tree appear to have evolved at around the same time, toward the end of the Mesozoic era, and have been competitors since that time. In most continents, placentals were much more successful and no marsupials survived; in South America the opossums retained a strong presence; in Australia's harsh climate the placentals died out and only marsupials survived.

The early birth of marsupials removes the developing young much sooner than in placental mammals, and marsupials have not needed to develop a complex placenta to protect the young from its mother's immune system. Early birth places the tiny new-born marsupial at greater risk, but significantly reduces the risk of pregnancy, as there is no need to carry a large foetus to full-term in bad seasons.

Because a newborn marsupial must climb up to its mother's nipples, the otherwise minimally developed newborn has front limbs that are much better developed than the rest of its body. This requirement is responsible for the more limited range of locomotory adaptations in marsupials than placentals; marsupials must retain a grasping forepaw and cannot develop it into a hoof[?], wing, or flipper as some groups of placental mammals have done.

There are between 260 and 280 species of marsupials, almost 200 of them native to Australia and nearby islands to the north. There are also many extant species in South America and one species, the Virginia Opossum, native to North America.

The are two primary divisions of Marsupialia: the Ameridelphia[?], the American marsupials; and the Australidelphia[?], the Australian marsupials. Order Micorbiotheria (which has only one species, the Monito del Monte) is found in South America but is believed to be more closely related to the Australidelphia.

There are many small, arboreal species in each group. Those in Ameridelphia[?] are often called "opossums", while those in Australidelphia[?] are "possums".

Marsupialia:


Western Grey Kangaroo with joey.
Larger version

Magnorder Ameridelphia[?]

Magnorder Australidelphia[?]



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