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Common brushtail possumCommon brushtail possumMarsupials are mammals that do not give birth to fully developed young. Instead, their young are born at a very early stage, and then continue to develop while clinging to their mother’s body. Apart from the opossum family of the Americas, marsupials live only in Australasia. They include the kangaroos, wallabies, koala, possums and wombats. These animals feed only on plants, leaves and fruit, but a few marsupials, such as the Tasmanian devil and some bandicoots, prey on insects and small animals.

A newborn kangaroo sucks on its mother's nippleA newborn kangaroo sucks on its mother's nipple

Young marsupials

When a young marsupial is born, it is tiny—no larger than a jelly bean—blind and hairless. Its limbs are not even properly formed, but somehow it still manages to crawl through its mother’s fur to find her nipples. Many marsupials, including kangaroos and wombats, have large pouches of skin around their nipples. This pouch is called the marsupium. 

Red-necked wallaby with joeyRed-necked wallaby with joey The pouch of a kangaroo or wallaby is deep and forward-facing, so that the young joey does not fall out. Wombats are burrowing animals, so they have backward-facing pouches to stop soil getting inside. Other marsupials, such as the short-tailed opossum, have no pouch at all. Their young simply hang on to the nipples until they are old enough to let go.

Virginia opossum, with her youngVirginia opossum, with her young
If a female marsupial has only one or two young, she can carry them in her pouch or, like the koala, on her back. Small marsupials, such as possums or bandicoots, which have several young at a time, must transfer them to a nest when they become too heavy to carry around.

Why Australia?

The Tasmanian devil has an extremely powerful bite, enabling it to tear meat and crush bones. It can even bite through thick metal wire.

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