Marsupial, a type of mammal that is distinguished from other mammals by certain anatomical and reproductive features. Most female marsupials carry and nurse their young inside an abdominal flap of skin called the abdominal pouch, or marsupium. Marsupials include such animals as kangaroos and opossums.Koalas are Australian marsupials.
The female marsupial lacks a fully developed placenta (the organ that nourishes the fetus in the mother's womb). As a result, the young spend a comparatively short amount of time in the womb, usually two to five weeks, and are not fully developed at birth. They are born blind, hairless, and very tiny. They crawl up the mother's abdomen to the abdominal pouch, where each immediately attaches itself to a nipple. The young stay in the pouch for a considerable amount of time, usually until they are capable of caring for themselves. Kangaroos, for instance, do not leave the pouch completely for eight months.
Marsupials make up the order of Marsupialia.
Millions of years ago, the marsupials lived on one huge continent. Over time, the large continent broke into smaller pieces. The marsupials remained on only two of the pieces—the two that are now South America and Australia. Over time, some of the South American marsupials moved north to live in North America. Many of the American marsupials have died out. Only opossums now live in the Americas.
Most marsupials live in Australia and on nearby islands. Australia is an island continent in the Southern Hemisphere. Australia is surrounded by water on all sides. It has about 150 different kinds of marsupials. These include kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, wombats, and Tasmanian devils. These marsupials do not live anywhere else in the wild. Australia has the most marsupials, but not so many as it once had.
In Australia, many marsupials are in danger of becoming extinct. People have brought foxes and wild dogs to Australia. These animals prey upon the marsupials. In clearing land for farms and cities, people have destroyed the marsupials’ homes and their food sources.
Human hunters have killed many of these animals for their soft, beautiful fur. The koala was almost wiped out, but now special laws protect this marsupial. People in Australia are working to protect other marsupials, too.
Kangaroos are excellent swimmers. They have been spotted more than 1 mile from the shoreline. Unlike other mammals, the opossum never stops growing. When Tasmanian devils are frightened, their ears turn bright red. A “young-at-foot” is a joey that has left its mother’s pouch but still returns to nurse. Sugar gliders use their teeth to tap eucalyptus trees for their sap. The people of Australia call adult male kangaroos “boomers.” They call young females “blue fliers.” Tasmanian devils love food. One devil escaped from captivity and ate over 50 chickens in two days. Koalas rarely drink water because they get all the liquid they need from eucalyptus leaves.