Temporal range: Paleogene - Present, 64.85–0Ma
|Female eastern grey kangaroo with a joey in her pouch|
|Present day distribution of marsupials.|
Marsupials are an infraclass of mammals living primarily in the Southern Hemisphere; a distinctive characteristic, common to most species, is that the young are carried in a pouch. Well-known marsupials include kangaroos, the koala, possums, opossums, wombats and the Tasmanian devil. Marsupials represent the clade originating with the last common ancestor of extant metatherians. Like other mammals in the Metatheria, they are characterized by giving birth to relatively undeveloped young, often residing in a pouch with the mother for a certain time after birth. Close to 70% of the 334 extant species occur in Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands, with the remaining 100 found in the Americas, primarily in South America, but with 13 in Central America, and one in North America, north of Mexico.
|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (April 2013)|
The relationships between the three extant divisions of mammals (monotremes, marsupials, and placental mammals) was long a matter of debate among taxonomists. Most morphological evidence comparing traits such as number and arrangement of teeth and structure of the reproductive and waste elimination systems favors a closer evolutionary relationship between marsupials and placental mammals than either with the monotremes, as does most genetic and molecular evidence.
The ancestors of marsupials split from those of placental mammals during the Jurassic period. In the absence of soft tissues, such as the pouch and reproductive system, fossil marsupials can be distinguished from placentals by the form of their teeth; primitive marsupials possess four pairs of molar teeth in each jaw, whereas placental mammals never have more than three pairs. Using this criterion, the earliest known marsupial is Sinodelphys szalayi, which lived in China around 125 million years ago (mya). This makes it almost contemporary to some early eutherian fossils which have been found in the same area.
The oldest metatherian fossils (Metatheria being a larger clade that groups marsupials with some of their extinct relatives) are found in present-day China. About 100 million years ago (mya), the supercontinent Pangaea was in the process of splitting into the northern continent Laurasia and the southern continent Gondwana, with what would become China and Australia already separated by the Tethys Ocean. Metatherians spread westward into modern North America (still attached to Eurasia) and then to South America, which was connected to North America until around 65 mya. Laurasian marsupials eventually died off, possibly due to competition from placental mammals for their ecological niches.
In South America, the opossums retained a strong presence, and the Tertiary saw the evolution of shrew opossums (Paucituberculata) and metatherian predators such as the borhyaenids and the saber-toothed Thylacosmilus. South American niches for mammalian carnivores were dominated by these marsupial and sparassodont metatherians. While placental predators were absent, the metatherians did have to contend with avian (terror bird) and terrestrial crocodilian competition. South America and Antarctica remained connected until 35 mya, as shown by the unique fossils found there. North and South America were disconnected until about three million years ago, when the Isthmus of Panama formed. This led to the Great American Interchange. Competition from placental mammals from the north drove sparassodonts to extinction, while didelphimorphs (opossums) invaded Central America, with the Virginia opossum reaching as far north as Canada.
Marsupials reached Australia via Antarctica about 50 mya, shortly after Australia had split off. This suggests a single dispersion event of just one species, most likely a relative to South America's monito del monte (a microbiothere, the only New World australidelphian). This progenitor may have rafted across the widening, but still narrow, gap between Australia and Antarctica. In Australia, they radiated into the wide variety seen today. Modern marsupials appear to have reached the islands of Borneo and Sulawesi relatively recently via Australia. A 2010 analysis of retrotransposon insertion sites in the nuclear DNA of a variety of marsupials has confirmed all living marsupials have South American ancestors. The branching sequence of marsupial orders indicated by the study puts Didelphimorphia in the most basal position, followed by Paucituberculata, then Microbiotheria, and ending with the radiation of Australian marsupials. This indicates that Australidelphia arose in South America, and reached Australia after Microbiotheria split off.
In Australia, terrestrial placental mammals disappeared early in the Cenozoic (their most recent known fossils being 55 million-year-old teeth resembling those of condylarths) for reasons that are not clear, allowing marsupials to dominate the Australian ecosystem. Extant native Australian terrestrial placental mammals (such as hopping mice) are relatively recent immigrants, arriving via island hopping from Southeast Asia.
Early development 
An early birth removes a developing marsupial from its mother's body much sooner than in placental mammals, thus marsupials have not developed a complex placenta to protect the embryo from its mother's immune system. Though early birth puts the tiny newborn marsupial at a greater environmental risk, it significantly reduces the dangers associated with long pregnancies, as there is no need to carry a large fetus to full-term in bad seasons.
Because newborn marsupials must climb up to their mother's nipples, their front limbs are much more developed than the rest of their bodies at the time of birth. This requirement possibly has resulted in the limited range of locomotor adaptations in marsupials compared to placentals. Marsupials must develop grasping forepaws during their early youth, making the transition from these limbs into hooves, wings, or flippers, as some groups of placental mammals have done, far more difficult.
An infant marsupial is known as a joey. Marsupials have a very short gestation period (about four to five weeks), and the joey is born in an essentially fetal state. The blind, furless, miniature newborn, the size of a jelly bean, crawls across its mother's fur to make its way into the pouch, where it latches onto a teat for food. It will not re-emerge for several months, during which time it develops fully. After this period, the joey begins to spend increasing lengths of time out of the pouch, feeding and learning survival skills. However, it returns to the pouch to sleep, and if danger threatens, it will seek refuge in its mother's pouch for safety.
Joeys stay in the pouch for up to a year in some species, or until the next joey is born. A marsupial joey is unable to regulate its own body temperature and relies upon an external heat source. Until the joey is well-furred and old enough to leave the pouch, a pouch temperature of 30–32 °C (86–90 °F) must be constantly maintained.
Reproductive system 
|This article may be expanded with text translated from the corresponding article in the German Wikipedia. (February 2013)|
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The evolution of reproduction in marsupials, and speculation about the ancestral state of mammalian reproduction, have engaged discussion since the end of the 19th century. Marsupials' reproductive systems differ markedly from those of placental mammals (Placentalia). Females have two lateral vaginas, which lead to separate uteri, but both open externally through the same orifice. A third canal, the median vagina, is used for birth. This canal can be transitory or permanent. The males generally have a two-pronged penis, which corresponds to the females' two vaginas. The penis is used only for discharging semen into females, and is separate from the urinary tract. Both sexes possess a cloaca, which is connected to a urogenital sac used to store waste before expulsion. The bladder of marsupials functions as a site to concentrate urine and empties into the common urogenital sinus in both females and males.
The definitive placenta in all marsupials is generated by the yolk sac. Among three fetal membranes in mammals, the yolk sac, allantois, and amnion, only the first two form a placenta. The evolution of placentation in vertebrates is linked to the evolution of viviparity, a reproductive system which the females retain their eggs to give birth to their young. Marsupials give birth at a very early stage of development (about four to five weeks); after birth, newborn marsupials crawl up the bodies of their mothers and attach themselves to a nipple, which is located on the underside of the mother either inside a pouch called the marsupium or open to the environment. To crawl to the nipple and attach to it, the marsupial must have well-developed forelimbs and facial structures. This is accomplished by accelerating forelimb and facial development in marsupials compared to placental mammals, which results in decelerated development of such structures as the hindlimb and brain. There they remain for a number of weeks, attached to the nipple. The offspring are eventually able to leave the marsupium for short periods, returning to it for warmth, protection, and nourishment.
Marsupials are characterized by giving birth to relatively undeveloped young. They lack a complex placenta to protect the embryo from its mother's immune system. They have a front pouch containing multiple nipples for protection and sustenance of the young.
Some common structural features can be found among marsupials. Ossified patellae are absent in most modern marsupials, though a small number of exceptions are reported. Epipubic bones are present. Marsupials (and also monotremes) also lack a gross communication (corpus callosum) between the right and left brain hemispheres.
Taxonomically, the two primary divisions of Marsupialia are: American marsupials and the Australian marsupials. The order Microbiotheria (which has only one species, the monito del monte) is found in South America, but is believed to be more closely related to the Australian marsupials. There are many small arboreal species in each group. The term 'opossums' is properly used to refer to the American species (though 'possum' is a common diminutive), while similar Australian species are properly called 'possums'.
- Superorder Ameridelphia
- Superorder Australidelphia
- Order Microbiotheria (one species)
- Order †Yalkaparidontia
- Order Dasyuromorphia (71 species)
- Order Peramelemorphia (24 species)
- Order Notoryctemorphia (two species)
- Order Diprotodontia (137 species)
- Family Phascolarctidae: koalas
- Family Vombatidae: wombats
- Family †Diprotodontidae: diprotodon
- Family Phalangeridae: brushtail possums and cuscuses
- Family Burramyidae: pygmy possums
- Family Tarsipedidae: honey possum
- Family Petauridae: striped possum, Leadbeater's possum, yellow-bellied glider, sugar glider, mahogany glider, squirrel glider
- Family Pseudocheiridae: ringtailed possums and relatives
- Family Potoroidae: potoroos, rat kangaroos, bettongs
- Family Acrobatidae: feathertail glider and feather-tailed possum
- Family Hypsiprymnodontidae: musky rat-kangaroo
- Family Macropodidae: kangaroos, wallabies, and relatives
- Family †Thylacoleonidae: marsupial lions
† indicates extinction
See also 
- Gardner, A. (2005). In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 3–21. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494.
- Groves, C. P. (2005). In Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 22–70. OCLC 62265494. ISBN 0-801-88221-4.
- Beck, Robin M. D.; Godthelp, Henk; Weisbecker, Vera; Archer, Michael; Hand, Suzanne J. (2008). "Australia's oldest marsupial fossils and their biogeographical implications". PLoS One 3 (3): e1858. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001858. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
- Moyal, Ann Mozley (2004). Platypus: The Extraordinary Story of How a Curious Creature Baffled the World. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-8052-1.
- van Rheede, T.; Bastiaans, T.; Boone, D.; Hedges, S.; De Jong, W.; Madsen, O. (2006). "The platypus is in its place: nuclear genes and indels confirm the sister group relation of monotremes and therians". Molecular Biology and Evolution 23 (3): 587–597. doi:10.1093/molbev/msj064. PMID 16291999.
- Zhe-Xi Luo, Chong-Xi Yuan, Qing-Jin Meng and Qiang Ji (2011). "A Jurassic eutherian mammal and divergence of marsupials and placentals". Nature 476: 442–445. doi:10.1038/nature10291.
- Benton, Michael J. (1997). Vertebrate Palaeontology. London: Chapman & Hall. p. 306. ISBN 0-412-73810-4.
- Rincon, Paul (2003-12-12). "Rincon, P., Oldest Marsupial Ancestor Found, BBC, Dec 2003". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
- "Pickrell, J., Oldest Marsupial Fossil Found in China, National Geographic, December 2003". News.nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
- "Vertebrate Paleontology: Sinodelphys szalayi". Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 2010-10-21.
- "New basal eutherian mammal from the Early Cretaceous Jehol biota, Liaoning, China". Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277 (1679): 229–236. 2010. doi:10.1098/rspb.2009.0203. PMC 2842663. PMID 19419990.
- Luo, Zhe-Xi; Ji, Qiang; Wible, John R.; Yuan, Chong-Xi (2003-12-12). "An early Cretaceous tribosphenic mammal and metatherian evolution". Science 302 (5652): 1934–1940. doi:10.1126/science.1090718. PMID 14671295. Retrieved 2010-12-27.
- Dawkins, Richard (2005). The Ancestor's Tale : A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution. Boston: Mariner Books. ISBN 0-618-61916-X.
- Hand, Suzanne J.; Long, John; Archer, Michael; Flannery, Timothy Fridtjof (2002). Prehistoric mammals of Australia and New Guinea: one hundred million years of evolution. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 0-8018-7223-5.
- Kemp, T.S. (2005). The origin and evolution of mammals. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-850761-5.
- Schiewe, Jessie (2010-07-28). "Australia's marsupials originated in what is now South America, study says". LATimes.Com. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2010-08-01.
- Nilsson, M. A.; Churakov, G.;, Sommer, M.; Van Tran, N.; Zemann, A.; Brosius, J.; Schmitz, J. (2010-07-27). "Tracking Marsupial Evolution Using Archaic Genomic Retroposon Insertions". In Penny, David. PLoS Biology (Public Library of Science) 8 (7): e1000436. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000436. PMC 2910653. PMID 20668664.
- Nowak, Ronald M. (1999). Walker's Book Of Mammals, Sixth Edition. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 5. ISBN 0-8018-5789-9.
-  Iowa State University Biology Dept. Discoveries about Marsupial Reproduction Anna King 2001. webpage] (note shows code, html extension omitted)
- Luckett, W.P. 1977. Ontogeny of amniote fetal membranes and their application to phylogeny. Major patterns in Vertebrate Evolution. New York, London: Plenum Publishing Corporation. p 439-516
- Renfree, R. C. 2009. The mammalian yolk sac placenta. Journal of Experimental Zoology. 312B:545-554
- Sears, K. E. (2009). "Differences in the Timing of Prechondrogenic Limb Development in Mammals: The Marsupial-Placental Dichotomy Resolved". Evolution 63 (8): 2193–2200. doi:10.1111/j.1558-5646.2009.00690.x. PMID 19453378.
- Smith, K. K. (2001). "Early development of the neural plate, neural crest and facial region of marsupials". Journal of Anatomy 199 (Pt 1–2): 121–131. doi:10.1046/j.1469-7580.2001.19910121.x. PMC 1594995. PMID 11523813.
Further reading 
- Tim Flannery (1994), The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People, pages 67–75. ISBN 0-8021-3943-4 ISBN 0-7301-0422-2
- Tim Flannery, Country: a continent, a scientist & a kangaroo, pages 196–200. ISBN 1-920885-76-5
- Austin, C.R. ed. Reproduction in Mammals. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press,1982.
- Bronson, F. H. Mammalian Reproductive Biology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989.
- Dawson, Terrence J. Kangaroos: Biology of Largest Marsupials. New York: Cornell University Press, 1995.
- Frith, H. J. and J. H. Calaby. Kangaroos. New York: Humanities Press, 1969.
- Gould, Edwin and George McKay. Encyclopedia of Mammals. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998.
- Hunsaker, Don. The Biology of Marsupials. New York: Academic Press, 1977.
- Johnson, Martin H. and Barry J. Everitt. Essential Reproduction. Boston: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1984.
- Knobill, Ernst and Jimmy D. Neill ed. Encyclopedia of Reproduction. V. 3 New York: Academic Press, 1998
- McCullough, Dale R. and Yvette McCullough. Kangaroos in Outback Australia: Comparative Ecology and Behavior of Three Coexisting Species. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
- Taylor, Andrea C., Sunnucks, Paul (1997). "Sex of Pouch Young Related to Maternal Weight in Macropus eugeni and M. parma". Australian Journal of Zoology 45 (6): 573–578. doi:10.1071/ZO97038.
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- Western Australian Mammal Species
- Researchers Publish First Marsupial Genome Sequence The National Institutes of Health May 2007
- First marsupial genome released. Most differences between the opossom and placental mammals stem from non-coding DNA