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Discovery Magazine 4/1/2008

Super Marsupials

Before you were born, you most likely lived inside of your mother’s womb for about 40 weeks. During that time you grew from being a one-celled human life form (called a zygote) to a baby made up of billions of cells. In nine months, you grew arms, legs, eyes, ears, fingers, toes, lungs, and everything else that goes along with being a baby. This is the way God designed humans to begin their lives—inside of their mothers for about nine months of growth and development.

Many animals also spend several months developing inside of their mothers before birth. Buffalo, moose, cows, and otters all remain in their mothers about the same amount of time prior to delivery as humans do.

Some animals, known as marsupials (mar-SOO-pee-uhls), spend far less time inside of their mother’s womb. Marsupials often are born after only a few days or weeks and may weigh less than one ounce at birth. Since marsupials are born so early, and are unable to cope very well outside of their mother’s body, God designed mother marsupials with a special pouch (or a fold of skin) where baby marsupials continue to grow. The mother’s pouch is called a “marsupium,” from which we get the name marsupial.

When a marsupial (such as a kangaroo) is born, it is born with the God-given instinct to wiggle across its mother’s body until it finds her pouch. In the pouch, the baby marsupial is able to stay warm and safe, while suckling milk from its mother. Some mothers bear and nurse only one baby at a time. Others, like the opossum, can have up to 16 babies at a time. As baby marsupials grow, they will eventually leave their mother’s pouch, but they may continue crawling in and out of the marsupium for more than a year.

God made marsupials in a variety of sizes. Some, like kangaroos, can grow to be nine feet long from head to tail, while others, such as marsupial mice, are only about five inches long. Kangaroos are among the most well-known marsupials, along with koalas, opossums, wombats, and Tasmanian devils. Some of the lesser known marsupials include bandicoots, marsupial moles, and marsupial mice.


Marsupial Facts

  • Most marsupials are found in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, and New Guinea. Some are found in South America. While scientists believe that marsupials once were fairly common in North America, today only one (the Virginia opossum) calls this continent home.
  • Male marsupials have very little to do with raising their young, leaving this job entirely to the mothers.
  • Most marsupials keep to themselves and are mainly nocturnal creatures (which means they are active mostly at night).
  • Scientists have learned that the brains of marsupials are smaller on average than the brains of other mammals of comparable size.
  • The diet of marsupials is varied. Some, like koalas, live entirely off of vegetation. We call these kinds of animals herbivores. Others, like bandicoots, are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and small animals. Tasmanian devils are the largest living meat-eating marsupial. Meat-eaters are called carnivores.
  • One of the more fearsome-looking marsupials, the marsupial wolf, was last seen in the 1950s on the island of Tasmania. It is now believed to be extinct.


Marsupial Highlights

  • Wombats are some of the cutest marsupials on the planet. They live in Australia and Tasmania, but are fairly rare. At two-and-a-half to four feet long, wombats are the biggest burrowing mammals in the world. You may have seen a little mole tunneling in your yard. Can you imagine a four-feet-long animal burrowing tunnels in your backyard? That would be a sight.
  • To keep dirt out of the wombat’s pouch (and away from its babies) as it tunnels in the earth, God made the wombat’s pouch to face backwards. God also gave the wombat short legs, large paws, and sharp claws, all of which make the wombat a better burrower.
  • If you ever visit Australia and look for a wombat, it will not do much good to look for one in the daytime. Wombats only come out at night. Do you remember what we call these kinds of creatures?

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