Marsupials are an interesting order of mammals. Having developed alongside true mammals, the two groups competed for territory in a lot of areas of the world. One of the main differences between the two groups is that true mammals give birth to young that are fully developed, whereas marsupials give birth to undeveloped young who then migrate to a pouch that their mothers have where they continue to develop. They eventually emerge from the pouch as fully formed young.Obviously, when I talk about the young being fully developed in this sense, I don't mean fully adult, I mean they have all the required organs and are just generally smaller versions of adults. With that being said, the majority of living marsupials are predominantly plant or fruit eaters. There are, however, still predators amongst the marsupial infra-class, so let's have a look at some of them.
Photo by Martin Pots, used with permission
These little guys are a lot cuter to us than their prey... obviously. They are small creatures, usually growing between 35cm and 45cm (14-18in) including the tail. The colour can vary between a soft grey and a reddish brown, but they all generally have stripes across the hind-quarters. Numbats are the only marsupial species that is fully active by day, making them diurnal. They mainly eat termites, and as an adult they can require up to 20,000 termites a day. Much like most of the other ant-eaters around the world (to which it isn't related), it digs into the termite mounds with strong front claws.
Monito del Monte
Photo by Jose Luis Bartheld, used with permission
The Monito del Monte is the only non-Australian species on this list. It calls the temperate forests of Chile home. The interesting thing about these little creatures is that, genetically, they are closer to the marsupials of Australia than they are to the other possums of South America. The current theory is that sometime when the super continent of Gondwana was still around and connecting South America with Antarctica and Australia, microbiotherians (Monito del Monte is the only member of this family still alive) managed to colonise Australia and only get a slight foothold in South America. Fossils of other microbiotherians have been found in Antarctica, but it is unclear where they came from.
Photo by Bernard Dupont, used with permission
Another great hunter from the marsupial clade. There are 23 species of Dunnarts. They are the size of field mice and, like the numbat, are predominantly insectivores. An interesting characteristic is that the males have the shortest Y-chromosome of any other mammalian species. One of the species, the Striped-faced Dunnart, has the shortest gestation period of any mammal, just 11 days. Dunnarts are nocturnal, meaning they come out to feed at night. While Dunnarts mainly eat insects of any variety, they are not picky eaters and will also take small reptiles, smaller mammals, and even small amphibians.
Photo by Mark Marathon, used with permission
Wambengers are small carnivores. There are three known species, the largest of which is the Brush-tailed phascogale, which is about the size of a rat. The smallest is the red-tailed phascogale. The wambengers don't have a consistent pouch, and instead it forms when the females become pregnant. The males of these three species rarely live longer than a year as most of them die from stress-related diseases during the mating season. If they are kept in captivity, the males can survive as long as the females, which can be between 3 and 5 years. They will eat small mammals, birds, lizards, and large spiders. There have been reports of them attacking poultry as well.
Photo by Ways, used with permission
Quolls are a group of six living species. They, like everyone else on this list, are carnivores, eating small mammals, birds, lizards, and insects. They are distant cousins of the Tasmanian Devil. The females will give birth to 18 joeys, but only six will survive, as the mother only has six nipples. A male's territory will usually overlap multiple females' territories, but they will only come together for mating. A strange thing to note about these creatures is that while they are solitary, they do have communal latrines. They have special areas where they will go to defecate.
The Tasmanian devil is the largest marsupial predator since the Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) became extinct in 1936.the size of a small dog and has a stocky, muscular build. Like the quoll, even though the devils are mainly solitary, they will sometimes eat and defecate in communal locations. The devil genome was sequenced in 2010 and found to have fourteen chromosomes. It was also found that Tasmanian devils suffer from low genetic diversity, which can make them susceptible to disease.
These are some of the most interesting marsupial predators around. Do you think we are missing any? If so, let us know by using the contact us page!