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Temporal range: Lower Cretaceous – Recent
Female Eastern Grey Kangaroo with a joey in her pouch
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Subclass: Theria
Infraclass: Metatheria
Huxley 1880
A young baby kangaroo in its pouch.

Marsupials are the main part of an infraclass of mammals called the Metatheria. This consists of the marsupials and their extinct ancestors.[1]


Marsupials give birth to living babies. The babies are called joeys. The babies feed on milk. Their babies are born very small.

Marsupials have a special pouch where they carry their babies. After the birth the baby goes into its mother's pouch, where it can drink milk and is kept warm and safe. When the babies are young they stay in the pouch all the time, but when they are older they can leave it for short times. When they are old enough and too big for the pouch they do not go into their mother's pouch anymore.


Marsupials evolved before the southern supercontinent Gondwana broke off from Pangaea 100 million years ago. Early marsupial fossils have been found in Asia, from 125 million years ago.[2][3][4]

They were outcompeted on Laurasia by placental mammals, but the placentals did not get into the Australasian part of Gondwana before it broke away into a separate supercontinent. That is why marsupials now found native only on the southern continents of Australasia and South and Central America, with the single exception of the Virginia Opossum.[5]

Some of the 100 living species of South American marsupials have migrated north: 13 species to Central America and one to North America.

There are 334 species of living Australasian marsupials. They are mostly in Australia and New Guinea, and some are on the smaller islands.

In more recent times the land bridge between the Americas, and reintroductions to Australia, have brought in placental mammals. They have caused the recent extinction of many marsupial species.[6]

List of Marsupials



The extinct genus Yalkaparidon (Order Yalkaparidontia) is a bizarre fossil found in the Oligocene/Miocene deposits of Riversleigh, NE Australia. Its teeth are so strange that palaeontologists call it a 'Thingodont'.[7]

South America

No longer marsupial

The borhyaenids and the sabertooth Thylacosmilus are no longer considered to be marsupials.[8][9] They are sparassodont metatherians, the sister group of the marsupials.

Related pages


  1. Marsupialia is the alternative name.
  2. Rincon, Paul (2003-12-12). "Rincon P. 2003. Oldest marsupial ancestor found.". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  3. "Pickrell J. 2003. Oldest marsupial fossil found in China.". Retrieved 2010-03-16.
  4. "Vertebrate Paleontology: Sinodelphys szalayi". Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Retrieved 2010-10-21.
  5. Of course, any animal or plant can be moved by man, and many have been. In biology, the word 'native' means 'occurs naturally in that region'.
  6. Tyndale-Biscoe C.H. (2005). Life of marsupials. Collingwood, Vic: CSIRO. ISBN 0-643-09199-8 .
  7. Archer M; Hand, Suzanne J. & Godthelp H. 1991. Australia's lost world: Riversleigh, World Heritage Site. Reed, Sydney. p94 "Thingodonta: off the scale of the unexpected".
  8. Argot, Christine 2004. Evolution of South American mammalian predators (Borhyaenoidea): anatomical and palaeobiological implications. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 140, 487-521.
  9. Naish, Darren (2008). "Invasion of the marsupial weasels, dogs, cats and bears... or is it?". Tetrapod Zoology. Retrieved 2008-12-07.