Unlike most mammals, which give birth to fully formed offspring, the female marsupial gives birth to an embryo, which is the size pf a bean, blind and hairless. It must crawl up the mother’s fur and take shelter in her abdominal pouch. Inside, it suckles on a teat, drinking milk to help it develop and grow. After a few months, the cub has developed and is big enough to climb out of the pouch. At the first sign of danger, however, it climbs right back in – until it is too big to fit inside.
The kangaroo is the largest and best known of the marsupials. It can measure about 6 feet (2 meters) in height – taller than many people! This Australian animal’s powerful hind legs help it get around by hopping like a spring through the forests and wooded savannahs of eastern Australia. Balancing itself with its tail, this marsupial can escape its predators by leaping an incredible 30 feet (9 meters) in a single bound and attain speeds of 30 mph (50 km/hr)!
Most species of marsupial live in Australia and New Guinea. Opossums, which are found in North and South America, are an exception. One of them, the Virginia opossum, is a remarkable actor. As soon as an enemy approaches, it starts growling and hissing. If this tactic fails to discourage the predator, the opossum suddenly collapses and remains perfectly still. Allowing its body to go completely limp and keeping its eyes slightly open, it pretends to be dead. With this great trick at its disposal, it’s no wonder that this prehistoric animal has survived until the present day!
Koalas live in Australia and sleep 18 hours a day. This solitary climber lives almost exclusively in eucalyptus trees. The daily menu of this fussy animal consists of young eucalyptus leaves that the koala carefully selects one at a time and that also suffice its need for water. In fact, the Aboriginal word “koala” means “no drink”. Millions of koalas were slaughtered in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Their soft, thick fur was used to make coats and toys. Koala hunting was so popular that the species disappeared completely from some parts of Australia and narrowly escaped becoming extinct. Koala hunting has been banned since 1927 but the animal is still endangered as its environment continues to be destroyed…