Marsupials – diet, habitat, species and size with pictures


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Updated: July 4, 2017

Marsupials are a group of animals that have a pouch in their abdomen. They use this pouch to carry their young ones until they are old enough to care of themselves. Since there are a lot of interesting facts about marsupials, it will be useless to waste time on ordinary background information. So, they will be presented briefly.

It is often said that marsupials are creatures of evolution and this is not a lie. But a better thing to say is that they are victims of evolution. So hard were marsupials hit by the drastic changes in their natural habitats that they have decreased significantly both in diversity and in specie population. The surviving marsupials, however, have found rather interesting ways of keeping up with the vagaries of nature’s weather. For gliders, which are sometimes called flying squirrels, they have learnt to fly for dear life. Kangaroos developed great hind legs for both attack and defense from invading predators while the koala has restricted itself to the comfort of the eucalyptus.

 

Physical Features

Physical features of marsupials vary from organism to organism. In fact, each marsupial has its set of unique characteristics.

The kangaroos, for instance, have a relatively small head and a big body. Their two fore limbs are very small while their powerful hind limbs are big, and strong enough to knock an adult human senseless.

 

Types of Marsupials

Despite the exterminating effect of extinction, there are several types of marsupials in existence. Below are some animals classified as marsupials:

  • Opossums
  • Potoroos
  • Wombats
  • Glider
  • Koalas
  • Wallabies
  • Dunnarts
  • Shrews
  • Pademelons
  • Wallaroos
  • Bandicoots
  • Antechinus
  • Planigale etc

These animals are scattered all over Australia and in some place in North America. They were originally more than this. Although there are over 350 species of marsupials in the world today, it is small compared to the thousands of species that have been wiped out due to unfavourable weather, consistent predation and threats to natural habitats. The koala, for instance is in serious threat of extinction since its only food, the leaves of the eucalyptus tree is a victim of deforestation.

 

Habitat

Marsupials don’t have a problem with accommodation. They easily pick  habitat for themselves.

But on the average, they live on the floor of forests, as well as open savannas and shrublands. Some species like kangaroos can tolerate the scorching heat of desert-like habitats while wombats have been known to live in burrows.

Diet of Marsupials

A whole lot make up the diet of marsupials. Besides, each marsupial has its unique type of food.

Some big marsupials like the kangaroo and koala eat leaves. And most of the time they eat late in the afternoon or in the evening. Koalas are known to enjoy eating the eucalyptus leaves. While the Tasmanian Devil remains an obligate carnivore, possum eat just about everything.

 

Behavior

Like most animals, marsupials have their own set of unique social behaviors too. That is if we call their relationships social in the first place.

Kangaroos for instance do not like to socialize freely with other animals both from its specie and beyond. However, they sometimes search for food in groups called mobs as often seen in Australia. This coming together is not to be considered social in the sense that there is neither a defined king nor queen as is the case in other animals such as bees, lions, termites and so on.

 

Interesting Facts About Marsupials

Having known the main facts common to marsupials in the preceding subtopics and sections, we can now look at some even more thrilling facts. And my! These creatures are unique in many ways.

 

Marsupials Are Born Almost Prematurely

When we say  “born prematurely”, it doesn’t mean the kind that is popular with humans or other mammals. Premature birth is more critical in marsupials as they are barely developed when they are born. Most newly born marsupials are hairless, bloody and almost helpless when they are born . Some newly born marsupials are as small as a cockroach when born but some can find their way to their mothers’ pouches from where the developments continue.

 

Development Continues in their Mothers’ Pouches

Since marsupials are barely developed when they are born, they rely heavily on the subsequent development that continues in the pouch. The pouch in which the new marsupial develops is pre-cleaned by the mother who carefully licks to acceptable hygienic standards.

Female Marsupials Have two Vaginas and Uteri

Now this is really interesting. Most mammals have one reproductive system, but not marsupials. They take reproductive duties very seriously, or at least, that’s the impression they are creating. Perhaps they believe in the biblical injunction which says “be fruitful and multiply”.

 

They Move in Various ways

This is easy to neglect but it is really special if you look closely. All reptiles, for instance, crawl, but the story is not the same for marsupials. While kangaroos hop on their two hind legs, most others move on all fours.

 

Smallest Marsupial is Just 2 inches

When you hear the word “marsupial”, you probably think of a kangaroo or something big. But what you may not know is that some marsupials are as small as 2 inches. And these ones are mostly found in North Australia.

 

The Biggest Marsupial is the Red Kangaroo

The largest marsupials in existence are the red kangaroos which populate the grasslands of Australia. On the average, they are 3 feet tall in height, but some have been known to be as tall as 5.5 feet. These ones are as tall as or even taller than some human beings.

 

Adorable Marsupials Pictures

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 Kangaroos Are Great Sprinters

If there is an ultimate list of the world’s greatest mammalian sprinters, the kangaroos are sure to make the list. Not just making the list, they will rank well too. Substantial evidence from National Geographic shows that kangaroos can run as fast as 25 m per hour. This, however, cannot be claimed about by all marsupials such as the lazy koala.

 

Some Marsupials Have High Immunity

Some marsupial species such as opossums exhibit a very high degree of resistance to toxins. This resistance somehow baffles scientist. The resistance is such the powerful venoms of vipers and rattlesnakes, which have been known to have deadly effect on humans, but amazingly have no effect on the opossums of Australia.  Not even water moccasins have any known effect on them.

 

They Got Their Name From The Pouch

Marsupials got their names from “marsupium”, a Latin term which means pouch. As expected, all marsupials have a pouch which they use to carry their young ones.

 

Some Marsupials Drug Themselves

This is no joke at all. Tasmanian Wallabies are always “high” on stimulants. This mostly happens because they feed heavily on poppies which have high opiate content. So don’t be disappointed when you come across a wallaby that’s feeling drowsy, that Wallaby could be high on some natural drug.

 

Kangaroos Adopt Children

This is one attribute that is considered unique to kangaroos which happen to be a marsupials. While most animals would not ever tolerate any offspring that is not their own, kangaroos under close observation have been known to adopt other kangaroos’ offsprings, popularly called Joeys. Just like the humans do, they provide all-round parental care for these young marsupials. They even carry them in their pouches and defend them from all dangers and harm.

Some Marsupials Eat Poop

Let’s not badmouth marsupials in general. It is actually just one type of marsupial that does this unholy act: koalas. Beastly Countdown once listed koalas as one of the laziest animals on earth and they did not make any mistakes. While they proved this animal’s laziness by profiling their slow digestive processes, these animals have taken laziness to a whole new level by eating poop. Young koalas are too lazy to eat their lovely eucalyptus leaves, they would rather consume their mums’ poop.

 

The Name “Kangaroo” Has A Funny Origin

Marsupials are funny animals indeed. So funny that they have induced this practical joke in humans. When European explorers first came to Australia, they saw kangaroos hopping about excitedly. In awe, they asked the Australian aborigines what the name of the animal is and they responded “kangaroo” which means “I don’t know”. The explorers mistook this response for the animal’s name and till this day, the animal bears that name.

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They Really Know How To Use Their Limbs

And yes they really do. Koalas use all of their limbs to channel food into their mouths. Kangaroos, on the other hand use the paws for boxing when fighting each other. They also use their powerful hind legs to fight off predators or stomp the ground when they want to raise alarm.

Marsupials are interesting animals in many ways. You can stream some videos of them from Youtube or stay glued to National Geographic on TV. Who knows? It could be your lucky day.

 

There are some endangered Marsupials

There are a lot of contributing factors which have contributed to the reason that a lot of marsupials are endangered nowadays most especially in Australia.  The justification most of these mammals are threatened revolve around man’s invasion into their natural environment.

Listed below are the main contributing factors to marsupial endangerment:

  • Habitat destruction
  • Introduced animals
  • Habitat change and degradation
  • Climatic changes
  • Disease

 

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