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Portal:Mammals

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Mammals (class Mammalia) are vertebrate animals characterized by the presence of sweat glands, including milk producing sweat glands, and by the presence of: hair, three middle ear bones used in hearing, and a neocortex region in the brain. Mammals, other than the monotremes, give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. They also possess specialized teeth and use a placenta in the ontogeny. The mammalian brain regulates endothermic and circulatory systems, including a four-chambered heart. Mammals encompass approximately 5,400 species, ranging in size from the Bumblebee Bat, (30-40mm), to the Blue Whale, (33,000mm), distributed in about 1,200 genera, 153 families, and 29 orders, though this varies by classification scheme.

Most mammals belong to the placental group. The four largest orders within the placental mammals are Rodentia (mice, rats, and other small, gnawing mammals), Chiroptera (bats), Carnivora (dogs, cats, bears, and other mammals that primarily eat meat), and Cetartiodactyla (including numerous herbivore species, such as deer, sheep, goats, and buffalos, plus whales).

Phylogenetically, Mammalia is defined as all descendants of the most recent common ancestor of monotremes (e.g., echidnas and platypuses) and therian mammals (marsupials and placentals). This means that some extinct groups of "mammals" are not members of the crown group Mammalia, even though most of them have all the characteristics that traditionally would have classified them as mammals. These "mammals" are now usually placed in the unranked clade Mammaliaformes.

The mammalian line of descent diverged from the sauropsid line at the end of the Carboniferous period. The sauropsids would evolve into modern-day reptiles and birds, while the synapsid branch led to mammals. The first true mammals appeared in the Jurassic period. Modern mammalian orders appeared in the Palaeocene and Eocene epochs of the Palaeogene period.

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Tasmanian devil
The Tasmanian devil (Sarcophilus harrisii), also referred to simply as 'the devil', is a carnivorous marsupial now found in the wild only in the Australian island state of Tasmania. The Tasmanian devil is the only extant member of the genus Sarcophilus. The size of a small dog, but stocky and muscular, the Tasmanian devil is now the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world (after the recent extinction of the thylacine in 1936). It is characterised by its black fur, offensive odour when stressed, extremely loud and disturbing screech, and viciousness when feeding. It is known to both hunt prey and scavenge carrion and although it is usually solitary, it sometimes eats with other devils. The Tasmanian devil became extirpated on the Australian mainland about 400 years before European settlement in 1788. Because they were seen as a threat to livestock in Tasmania, devils were hunted until 1941, when they became officially protected. Since the late 1990s devil facial tumour disease has reduced the devil population significantly and now threatens the survival of the species, which may soon be listed as endangered. Programs are currently being undertaken by the Tasmanian government to reduce the impact of the disease.

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prairie dog
Credit: Aaron Siirila

A black-tailed prairie dog (Cynomys) at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., looks out from a system of burrows, characteristically scanning the horizon. On average, these rodents grow to between 12 and 16 inches (30 and 40 cm) long, including their short tails.

Scientific classification

KingdomAnimalia   PhylumChordata   SubphylumVertebrata   SuperclassTetrapoda   (unranked)Amniota   ClassMammalia


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