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Temporal range: Lower CretaceousHolocene, 125 mya to present
Lycopsis longirostris, an extinct Sparassodont, relatives of the marsupials
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Subclass: Theria
Infraclass: Metatheria
Thomas Henry Huxley, 1880
Orders and infraclasses

Metatheria is a group in the class Mammalia which contains the marsupials and the sparassodonts.

First proposed by Thomas Henry Huxley in 1880, it is nearly synonymous with the earlier taxon Marsupialia, but it also contains the nearest fossil relatives of marsupial mammals.

The earliest known representative, Sinodelphys, is from the Lower Cretaceous of China.[1]

The closest relatives of the metatheres are the Eutheria (also erected by Huxley in 1880). Both are conventionally united as infraclasses within the subclass Theria, which contains all living mammals except monotremes.[2]

During development, metatherians produce a yolk sac placenta and give birth to 'larval-like' offspring.

These offspring have underdeveloped rear limbs, and after birth they migrate to the marsupium where they attach to a nipple. The mouth of newly born metatherians forms an "O" shape into which the mother's nipple fits. Then it swells to secure the offspring into place.

The Greek words meta- and theria roughly means the "other beasts", in contrast with Eutheria ("true beasts").

Evolutionary history

Metatherians first appeared in the Cretaceous period. Some stem group metatherians persisted well into the Neogene period before becoming extinct. Crown group marsupials, the one branch of Metatheria that survives today, diversified close to the time of extinction at the end of the Cretaceous.[3]


  1. Luo, Zhe-Xi et al (2003). "An early Cretaceous tribosphenic mammal and metatherian evolution". Science 302 (5652): 1934–1940. doi:10.1126/science.1090718 . PMID 14671295 . Retrieved 2010-12-27.
  2. O'Leary, Maureen A. et al 2013. The placental mammal ancestor and the post–K-Pg radiation of placentals. Science 339 (6120): 662–667. [1]
  3. Horovitz, Inés et al (2009). "Cranial anatomy of the earliest marsupials and the origin of opossums". PLoS ONE 4 (12): e8278. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0008278 . PMC 2789412 . PMID 20016823 .