Marsupial Diversity

Marsupial Diversity

There are about 270 species of marsupial, with over 200 of these from Australia and New Guinea, and the rest South/Central American. One species, the Virginian opossum Didelphis virginiana estends into North America. These species have diversified to occupy almost all the niches occupied by eutherian mammals in other continents.

South American Marsupials

 
Didelphids

About 93 species of opossum are known. They are small to medium sized marsupials, with many semi arborial omnivores.

A short-tailed gray opossum, Monodelphis domestica. Photo: Geoff Shaw

A short-tailed gray opossum, Monodelphis domestica. Photo: Geoff Shaw

 

Caenolestids

The shrew opossums – a small group (6 species) of small carnivorous marsupials from the Andes.

 
Microbiotheriidae

There is only one species in this group, the Monito del Monte (“little mountain monkey). Evolutionarily this species seems to be more closely related to the Australian Marsupials than the other South American species.

 

Australian Marsupials

 
Dasyuromorphids.

A diverse group of small to medium sized carnivorous marsupial. This group includes the Tasmanian Devil and ranges down to small mouse like carnivores, the ant-eating numbats and the probably extinct thylacine (Tasmanian tiger). There are 71 living species.

An agile antechinus. Photo: Geoff Shaw

An agile antechinus. Photo: Geoff Shaw

 

Peramelemorphids.

Th is group includes the bandicoots comprise 24 species. They have extremely short gestations (12.5 days).

A southern brown bandicoot. Photo: Geoff Shaw

A southern brown bandicoot. Photo: Geoff Shaw

 

Notoryctids.

This group has only 2 species, the enigmatic ‘marsupial moles’ or “itjaritjari“.

 

 

 

A sugar glider. Photo: Geoff Shaw

A sugar glider. Photo: Geoff Shaw

A koala. Photo: Geoff Shaw

A koala. Photo: Geoff Shaw

Diprotodonts.

Named because they all have a pair of forward pointing incisors, this is a diverse group that includes the possums and gliders, koalas and wombats, and the kangaroo family. There are 137 species in this group.

Possums and gliders include the feathertail gliders, pygmy gliders, pygmy possums, ringtail possums, and the brushtail possums and cuscusses.

Koalas, tree-living leaf-eaters are closely related to the burrowing wombats

Tarsipes, the tiny, nectar feeding “honey possum” has a group all of its own. Despite their diminutive size (adults are about 10 g weight, and about 7 cm body length) males have the larges sperm of any mammal, and to manufacture these sperm have relatively hunge testes – about 5% of their body weight!

Macropodids are the kangaroo family, including the wallabies and the rat-kangaroos and comprise about 47 living species.

A honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus on a Banksia coccinea flower. Photo: Geoff Shaw

A honey possum, Tarsipes rostratus on a Banksia coccinea flower. Photo: Geoff Shaw

Kangaroos. Photo: Geoff Shaw

Kangaroos. Photo: Geoff Shaw