Marsupial

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Marsupials are an infraclass of mammals, characterized by a distinctive pouch (called the marsupium), in which females carry their young through early infancy. Close to 70% of the 334 extant species occur in Australia, New Guinea, and nearby islands, with the remaining 100 found in the Americas, primarily in South America, but with 13 in Central America, and one in North America.

Contents

History

The relationships between the three extant divisions of mammals, monotremes, marsupials, and placental mammals, was long a matter of debate among taxonomists.[4] Most morphological evidence comparing traits such as number and arrangement of teeth and structure of the reproductive and waste elimination systems favors a closer evolutionary relationship between marsupials and placental mammals than either with the monotremes. Most genetic and molecular evidence also supports grouping marsupials and placental mammals as a single clade, subclass Theria.[5]

Marsupials and placental mammals split from the monotremes during the Cretaceous Period.[6] In the absence of soft tissues, such as the pouch and reproductive system, fossil marsupials can be distinguished from placentals by the form of their teeth; primitive marsupials possess four pairs of molar teeth in each jaw, whereas placental mammals never have more than three pairs.[7] Using this criterion, the earliest known marsupial is Sinodelphys szalayi, which lived in China around 125 million years ago (mya).[8][9][10] This makes it almost contemporary to the earliest placental fossils, which have been found in the same area.[10][11]

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