Physiology: Animal Function and Reproduction


What are some animals with pouches, which are used to carry their young?

Marsupials (meaning “pouched” animals) differ from all other living mammals in their anatomical and physiological features of reproduction. Most female marsupials—kangaroos, bandicoots, wombats, banded anteaters, koalas, opossums, wallabies, Tasmanian devils, etc.—have an abdominal pouch called a marsupium, in which their young are carried. In some small terrestrial marsupials, however, the marsupium is not a true pouch but merely a fold of skin around the mammae (milk nipples).

The short gestation period in marsupials (in comparison to other similarly sized mammals) allows their young to be born in an “undeveloped” state. Consequently, these animals have been viewed as “primitive” or second-class mammals. However, some scientists now see that the reproductive process of marsupials has an advantage over that of placental mammals. A female marsupial invests relatively few resources during the brief gestation period, more so during the lactation (nursing period) when the young are in the marsupium. If the female marsupial loses its young, it can conceive again sooner than a placental mammal in a comparable situation.


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