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Marsupials

 (Infraclass: marsupialia or metatheria)

Over 330 species of marsupials exist today. Around two-thirds of these occur in Australia, and the remainder live mainly in South America

Australian marsupials consist of the carnivorous and insectivorous Dasyurids (antechinus, dunnarts, numbats, quolls, Tasmanian Devil and the extinct Tasmanian Tiger; the omnivorous Peramelemorphs (bandicoots and bilbies); and the predominantly herbivorous Diprotodonts (kangaroos, Koala, possums, wallabies and wombats).

The word ‘marsupial’ comes from the Latin word ‘marsupium’, which means pouch, although not all marsupials have a pouch. Some species, like the kangaroos, have a well-developed pouch, large enough for fully enclosing and protecting the young during development, but others have only a simple fold of skin.

Marsupials are born at a very early stage of development. They are tiny and naked, have poorly developed hindlimbs and well developed forelimbs. The forelimbs have claws, which enable the foetus to make the journey to the mother’s teats and the life-sustaining ‘milk’ they produce.

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