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Did You know? - Mesmerizing Marsupials

by Daniel Toth 7 months ago in Science

Season 1 Episode 4

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The distribution of marsupials in the world is quite uneven; marsupials are endemic to Oceania and the Americas. Around 70% of the 334 extant species are indigenous to Australia, the land where koalas and kangaroos roam free.

How small are Marsupials when they are born?

The offspring of marsupials go through two phases before they are fully developed. Marsupial babies lack the protection of a placenta, so they have to get the hell out quickly – this first stage lasts only a couple of weeks. When the babies are born, the offspring is still tiny, furless, blind, and most internal organs are not developed. However, their front limbs are much more developed than the rest of their body as they have to drag themselves up to their mother’s pouch through thick fur. Once the newborn gets inside the pouch and finds the nipple (teat), it latches on with its mouth for the next couple of weeks/months and continues to develop. Infant marsupials are called joeys.

Kangaroos have 4 teats in their pouch which provides different kinds of milk for different stages of development. Hence, these mesmerizing creatures can have 3 babies at one time – one becoming mature, another developing in the pouch, and one in the uterus as an embryo.

Do all marsupials have pouches?

The most distinctive feature of marsupials is that they have pouches. However, not every marsupial has one: only koalas, kangaroos, and some opossums have true pouches. Mulgaras only have two lateral folds of skin to protect their little ones, short-tailed opossums have no pouches at all instead they developed 13 retractable nipples to provide protection for their newborns. Larger joeys usually travel on their mother’s back.

North American opossum with her babies. Photo by Wikipedia

Being an aquatic marsupial is very tough, so water opossums evolved a watertight pouch that protects the joeys. Amazingly, males have something most men would probably be jealous of; they have pouches as well – though, not as watertight as the female’s –. The main purpose is to place their genitalia before swimming, so they wouldn’t get tangled up in the aquatic vegetation. (The Thylacine, which is extinct since the 1950s, also shared this trait.)

Their genitalia are unique as well!

To interrupt your regularly scheduled news I bring you this awesome fact about marsupial genitals. You might have to sit down for this one.

Female kangaroos, wombats, koalas, and Tasmanian devils have three vaginas. Yes, you heard it right! The side vaginas transport the sperm to the two uteruses, while the third one – which is in the middle – sends the little joey to the outside world.

But females are not the only ones that have interesting genitalia: many male marsupials have two-headed penises, which lie in front of their scrotum.

How big can a Kangaroo jump?

Kangaroos live in the arid areas of Australia, also known as the Outback. They live in groups, known as a mob or troop. If they are in a hurry, instead of running, they jump on their two muscular hind-limbs, using their strong tails to balance. They walk using all four limbs with their tails acting as their fifth.

Thanks to their huge legs, Red kangaroo males can cover 8-9 m (26.2–29.5 ft) in one leap and they are capable of reaching speeds of over 65 km/h (40 mi/h). If kangaroos were humans, they would have to wear extra-large elephant shoes!

By Ondrej Machart on Unsplash

When do opossums play dead?

If the North American opossum is in danger, it will hiss and growl at the attacker. If the attacker still does not ward off, the opossum panics and falls into a coma lying motionless on its side. When an opossum is ‘playing dead’, its limbs become stiff and numb, their lips are drawn back, foam is coming from their mouths and a stinky fluid comes out from their anal glands.

However, this act is not due to the opossum’s good acting skills, it’s an involuntary reaction which is their automatic response to fear. They usually regain consciousness after a few minutes or hours.

Are Koalas bears?

Koalas are easily recognizable by their stout body and rounded head with fluffy ears and bare, spoon-shaped nose. Its scientific name means ashy-grey pouch bear. Although these charming little creatures are very similar to teddy bears, and their tails are the same as the bear’s - small, which is almost invisible on its body - they are more closely related to kangaroos and wombats.

Koalas often sleep for up to 18-20 hours each day, but not because they ‘get drunk’. They sleep a lot because it requires a lot of energy to digest their toxic, low-nutrition diet, moreover sleeping is the best way to conserve energy.

By Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

World’s smallest and fiercest marsupial.

At first, Long-tailed planigales might look like a typical house mouse, but actually, they are Australian carnivorous marsupials. They have grey-brown fur, a flattened head, pointed muzzle, and long, hairless tail. These feral critters feast on insects, larvae, small lizards, and mammals close to their size. They measure 5-7 centimeters in length and weigh between 4 and 4.5 grams, less than one-third of the weight of your average toothbrush.

Photo by Gerhard Koertner

Little devils of the world.

Tasmanian Devils are the largest carnivorous marsupials in the world today. These cheeky little devils don’t waste any food; they eat meat, bones, and organs and they don’t shy away from spoiled or rotting meat. They have a quite disturbing feeding habit as well; they like to fall asleep inside a rotting carcass (carrion) so when they wake up, they can continue eating.

If you thought frogs and crickets are loud, think again! Tasmanian devils can be extremely loud; they cough, growl, snort, sniff, screech, and even sneeze to scare off other animals. The first settlers thought demons surrounded them in the wilderness - They weren’t too far from the truth.

These mischievous little critters have strange mating habits as well. Females prefer to mate with the largest, most dominant male. When the female chose her partner, she allows him to bite the scruff of her neck and drag her back to his den where the male further uses his dominance by pushing and nudging her. Female Tasmanian devils give birth to 20-40 joeys at once. As there are only four teats in the pouch, competition is fierce, and only few newborns survive. – What a great way to start your life!

Even though they are fierce predators, Tasmanian devils are endangered since 2008. The primary causes are roadkill and a deadly disease knwon as DFTD - Devil Facial Tumor Disease.

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Probably marsupials are one of the weirdest living creatures on Earth, but I hope we can all agree on one thing; they are mesmerizing.


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Daniel Toth

Amateur Writer | World Traveler | Animal Lover | Foodie

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