Marsupial

Marsupials are a group of mammals that brood their young in pouches on their bellies, rather than in wombs like placental mammals. The overwhelming majority of marsupials are found in Australia and New Guinea, but several species live in the Americas. However, fossil evidence has led zoologists to conclude that marsupials first evolved in South America, and subsequently spread to Australasia.

 

Common Spotted Cuscus

This marsupial has forelimbs like hands, which help it to pick up food and climb. The inner toes are free of claws, acting as thumbs.

The colourful cuscus is a rather secretive arboreal possum. It has a prehensile tail with a scaly inner surface, free from fur. This acts like another hand, helping the cuscus to clamber around without difficulty. Mating can occur at any time of year, with the young being born after a very short gestation period, following which they transfer to the pouch, where there are four teats. This marsupials can fall victim to snakes such as pythons, and birds of prey.

Distribution: Ranges from New Guinea to the Moluccan Islands; also occurs in tropical parts of Australia, inhabiting rainforest up to an altitude of 1200 m (3900 ft).

Weight: 3 - 6 kg (3 - 13 lb); males are bigger.

Length: 65 - 85 cm (26 - 33 in), including tail, which is almost as long as the body.

Maturity: About 1 year.

Gestation Period: 13 days.

Breeding: 1, but can be up to 4; young spend up to 220 days in the pouch.

Food: Herbivorous, eating vegetation, mainly leaves, as well as fruit.

Lifespan: Up to 11 years.

Ears

The ears are tiny, emphasizing the rounded shape of the head.

Eyes

The eyes are large and round, positioned on the front of the head.

Colouration

Colour can be variable, with males either pure white or with reddish-orange, black, grey and white fur.

Tail

The tail is flexible, often kept curled up when the cuscus is resting.

COLOUR VARIANTS

The patterning of these phalangers is unique. Females tend to to have a dark saddle area extending over the back.

The common spotted cuscus spends its time sleeping in a nest built in the fork of a tree.

 

Marsupial Mole

Size: 9 - 18 cm (3.5 - 7 in); 40 - 70 g (0.08 - 0.15 lb).

This unusual species is not related to other moles, and is only distantly related to other marsupials. It is white or cream in colour, but otherwise resembles a placental mole. It spends a lot of time underground and has long, spade-like claws on its forelimbs for digging, and tiny eyes hidden under its skin. This is a good example of "convergent evolution" between marsupial mammals and placental mammals - having evolved similar adaptations for the same lifestyle.

 

Numbat

Size: 17 - 27 cm (7 - 11 in); 300 - 600 g (0.6 - 1.3 lb).

This marsupial from southern parts of Australia is also known as the banded anteater and, as the name suggests, it specializes in eating ants and termites. Like other anteaters, it has a long snout, a sticky tongue, which can extend at least 10 cm (4 in), and powerful claws for ripping open rotting logs to expose termite nests.

 

Large Celebes Cuscus

Size: 0.5 - 0.6 m (20 - 24 in); 7 - 10 kg (15 - 22 lb).

This marsupial only lives on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (Celebes) and belongs to the same family as the Australian possums. It has a stocky body with thick, dark-coloured fur above and pale fur below. Unlike the other two species of cuscus living on Sulawesi, this species lives in trees and has a long prehensile tail to help it climb.

 

Squirrel Glider

This is one of five closely related species of gliding possums, including the sugar glider, that live in Australia. These marsupials resemble flying squirrels, they are mostly nocturnal and have large eyes to help them see in low light. They are arboreal, and during the day they sleep in nests made from leaves in the hollows of trees.

Squirrel gliders have membranes of skin that stretch from their wrists to their ankles, which form gliding surfaces (aerofoils) when their legs and arms are spread out. The closely related but smaller they can glide for distances of up to 45 m (150 ft), and the larger fluffy glider of the same genus can glide up to 114 m (375 ft).

Squirrel gliders have beautiful long tails, grey fur on top and pale fur underneath. These marsupials have attractive dark stripes from their noses all the way to their rumps, and stripes across their eyes.

Squirrel gliders live in social groups, usually consisting of one adult male, several adult females and their young. These marsupials communicate with a variety of calls, including chatters, nasal grunts and repetitive short grunts, which seem to serve as alarm calls and warnings to squirrel gliders from other groups. During the breeding season, females develop pouches in which the young stay for around six months. After this time, the pouches wither away.

Distribution: Eastern and south-eastern Australia.

Habitat: Open forests. Food: Nectar, pollen, sap, insects and other invertebrates and small vertebrates.

Size: 12 - 30 cm (5 - 12 in); 200 - 260 g (0.4 - 0.6 lb).

Maturity: Females end of first year; males beginning of second year.

Breeding: 1 young, or occasionally twins, annually.

Life span: 12 years.

Status: Threatened.

 

Long-Clawed Marsupial Mouse

This is one of over 50 species of marsupial mice, all of which live in Australia and New Guinea. All are carnivorous, taking any prey small enough to be overpowered. Very little is known about this species, probably because it lives in the remote and inaccessible wet forest habitat of the interior of New Guinea, at elevations of up to 3,000 m (10,000 ft). However, the long-clawed marsupial mouse is quite similar in appearance and habits to the better-known species living in Australia, such as the brush-tailed marsupial mouse.

The long-clawed marsupial mouse resembles a tree shrew, with its long, thin muzzle and large, bushy tail. As its name suggests, it has particularly long claws on all four feet.

Like the Australian species, the long-clawed marsupial mouse is nocturnal and arboreal, though it is also sometimes active during the day. It is highly territorial, with females occupying huge territories - about double the size of male territories. Females are very aggressive with one another and can usually lominate males. Daughters sometimes inherit parts of their mothers' territories when they become independent, but sons are always driven away to seek their own territories.

Distribution: Western and central mountains of New Guinea.

Habitat: Upland wet moss forests.

Food: Insects and perhaps other small animals.

Size: 17 - 23 cm (7 - 9 in); 110 - 230 g (0.25 - 0.5 lb).

Maturity: 8 months.

Breeding: 8 young.

Life span: 1-2 years.

Status: Unknown.

 

Brush-Tailed Bettong

The population of this unusual marsupial has dropped dramatically for various reasons, including a decline in the number of grassland fires in its territory.

The diet of brush-tailed bettongs is unusual, as they feed on fungi, which can only be broken down in their digestive tract by bacteria. In the absence of regular grassland fires, these fungi may not grow as well, reducing their food supply, although grazing by sheep and predation by foxes has also contributed to their decline. After mating, the bettong's embryo is retained in the female's uterus at first, and will only start developing once the pouch is empty.

Distribution: Occurs in Australia, in areas of scrub and grassland in South Australia; favours open eucalypt forest with a grass floor in Western Australia.

Weight: 1.1 - 1.6 kg (2.4 - 3.5 lb).

Length: 48 - 76 cm (19 - 30 in), including tail, which is almost as long as the body.

Maturity: By 6 months.

Gestation Period: 21 days.

Breeding: 1; young spend about 90 days in the pouch.

Food: Feeds mainly on fungi but may also eat some bulbs, seeds and insects.

Lifespan: 4 - 6 years in the wild; can be up to 9 in captivity.

Muzzle

The muzzle is usually quite bare.

Colouration

Predominantly grey above, whitish tin the underparts and with a dark tip to the tail.

Forelegs

These are very short, but the sharp claws allow the bettong to dig effectively.

Night-time foraging

These marsupials are nocturnal by nature, spending the day hidden in their nests.

NEST-BUILDING

The prehensile tail of the brush-tailed bettong is used to carry the grass used for nest-building.

Gallery of Marsupial