Children love animals, enjoy learning about them and are very quick to identify them. In schools they are taught about different types of animals like domestic animals, farm animals, wild animals. As they grow older, they categorize animals based on their eating habits– herbivores, carnivores, omnivores or based on whether they have a vertebral column or not. Broader classifications are made based on adaptations, where they live, eating habits, there is even a group made for those that cannot be seen with the naked eye called microscopic organisms.
One of the largest and most recognisable groups in the animal classification, under the vertebrates section is the mammals. The others sections include fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Mammals encompass all humans and other land animals. Amongst the mammals there is a special group called Marsupials. Let’s now delve further into the world of Marsupials.
Marsupials are those mammals that carry their young ones in a pouch. The babies are born prematurely, only one month after being conceived and remain attached to their mother till they are old enough to manage by themselves. Some of the popular and well recognised marsupials include Kangaroos, wallabies, Koalas and possums. These animals with pouches are grouped together under Marsupialia and mostly live in Australia, Tanzania and the Americas.
There are around 330 extant / living species of marsupials. We’ve put up the pictures of the few that we are referring to in this article.
Long- tailed planigales
Some important facts about marsupials that’s well worth knowing –
- Marsupials exist only in Australia, Tanzania, the Americas and New Guinea.
- Marsupials are considered mammals as they give birth to young ones, but they are a different group because they have a pouch to carry their babies.
- The young ones are born prematurely and have to stay connected with their mothers and stay in her pouch till they are fully formed and strong enough to manage by themselves.
- Depending on the species a new born baby can be between the size of a rice grain and a jelly bean, they can’t see as and their hand legs haven’t properly developed yet.
- Babies are born after one month of conception and are not nourished with the help of the placenta like other mammals, the babies crawl into their mother’s pouches and feed on milk till they are old enough to live by themselves or too big to remain in the pouch. Or till the next baby is born.
- Female koalas will carry their babies on their backs when they become too big for their pouches, but still need their mother’s care.
- Except for the opossum and the extinct Tasmanian tiger, only the female marsupials have a pouch to carry the young ones. The male opossum needs its pouch to protect its genitalia while swimming, while the Tasmanian tiger needed it to protect its genitals from getting damaged while running through vegetation.
- Most of the marsupials are nocturnal, which means they sleep during the day and are active at night. They have a very good sense of smell and sense of hearing. The numbat and the musky rat-kangaroo are active during the day.
- Depending on their eating habits the marsupials are divided into-
- Dasyurids – these are carnivores, consuming meat, their diet consists of insects, small reptiles and other mammals. The Tasmanian devil is the biggest dasyurid.
- Peramelemorphs – having an omnivorous diet comprising a mixture of meat and vegetation. Bilbies are a good example of these omnivores.
- Diprotodonts – most marsupials fall into this category of a herbivorous diet. The well-known kangaroos, koalas and possums are examples of diprotodonts.
- Most female mammals have just one uterus and one vagina however female marsupials have two uteruses each with its own lateral vagina, the young ones are both through a central birth canal
Let’s look at some of the interesting ways in which marsupials have adapted to their habitat-
- Burrowing marsupials like the wombats have powerful foreclaws to help them tunnel into the ground for shelter and food.
- Terrestrial ones have strong, well developed hind legs to use as weapons and to help them catapult themselves from one place to another.
- Some of the arboreal animals have membranes that help them glide down from a higher level.
- Marsupials like the koalas and tree kangaroos have strong claws adapted to spending most of their lives on trees.
Fun facts for kids about Marsupials-
- The marsupials evolved when South America, Australia and Antarctica were connected as one big continent, that was around 100 million years ago.
- The red kangaroo is the largest marsupial in the world while the long-tailed planigale is the smallest.
- The toes of marsupials are joined together with webbing, this is known as syndactyly.
- The sugar gliders are able to jump and glide through the air with the help of a membrane that extends from their arms to their legs. These palm sized marsupials are often kept as pets.
- Australian marsupials live in the desert, scrub or forest regions. Some marsupials like the wombats dig burrows to live in while others like the sugar slider, koala and tree kangaroo live on trees.
- Baby marsupials are called ‘joeys’ and they feed on milk.
- The Virginia opossums are the largest of all opossums and the only species of marsupials that live in North America. They are nocturnal and solitary creatures.
- Some have front facing pouches like the kangaroos, some have backward facing ones like the wombats, some like the Tasmanian devils the pouches open towards the rear. Some like the numbat, have a tiny flap of skin covering the teat area instead of a pouch and some like the opossum has retractable teats and no pouch at all.
There are so many more cute, scary, majestic, tough and marvellous marsupials to look at and learn about; each one so unique, having their own amazing adaptations and lifestyles. Do watch some documentaries on them and read up on books about these fascinating creatures with your own little ones. Marsupials are so different and yet they have their vital role to play in balancing our huge ecosystem.
At EuroKids, we believe that education doesn’t begin and end with each academic year, instead it is a gradual learning process that takes place and continues over a lifetime. Our curriculum concepts are designed in such a way that it revises what the children already know as well as buildup on additional knowledge. The amount of information taught to the kids is age appropriate and there is a lot of revision of concepts done throughout the year to ensure that the children remember what they have learnt. Teaching is done with the help charts, puppets, stories, sometimes short video clips are shown to the children and when able either field trips are organized or a resource person/ parent in the same field is called to interact with the children. Find out more about EuroKids and to find a centre nearest to you.