Marsupials are members of the infraclass Marsupialia, and they’re all animals with a pouch. They give birth to very small and fragile offspring, so they keep them in their pouches for a while until they’re strong enough to meet the real world.
Because of this, animals with a pouch belong to their own class, and some of the most well-known animals in that class are:
- Horned Marsupial Frogs
- Brushtail Possums
- Tasmanian Devils
- Sugar Glider
Table of Contents
Scientific name (order): Didelphimorphia
Opossums are most likely the foremost species when it comes to pouches that people don’t know about. However, opossums are Marsupials and they’ll keep their offspring safe in their mother’s pouch, where they usually spend about two months.
After those two months, they’ll move on and start living in the wild. We can find them in the entire USA, but also in Mexico and Canada. Later in the list, we’ll see that there are over 120 species of opossum, and this is just the one present in the States.
Scientific name (genus): Hippocampus
An almost complete gender reversal in comparison to mammals, seahorses use pouches to keep their offspring safe while they’re growing. However, what’s so interesting about them is that the male is the “pregnant” one.
This phenomenon is found in many seahorse species, as they have a brood pouch that will hold several thousand eggs. It can take up to 45 days until the father lets the grown offspring leave his belly.
This sort of behavior is extremely rare with animals, as it’s usually the female growing the young in her body.
3. Horned Marsupial Frogs
Scientific name: Gastrotheca cornuta
This is the only frog with a pouch in which the female broods her eggs. This pouch is actually specially modified skin that’s designed to keep the eggs at the proper temperature.
The pouch allows the offspring to completely skip the tadpole stage, which is when they’re at their most vulnerable. It’s very odd to find amphibians with a pouch, and this is truly nature at its weirdest.
Scientific name (family): Vombatidae
Just like other marsupials on this list, the wombat has a pouch to keep its young safe. There’s a very impressive adaptation in that regard – their pouch is facing backwards.
This is an evolutionary trick that’s supposed to stop dirt and soil from getting into the pouch when they’re digging. Wombats spend a lot of time digging, so this has proven to be a crucial adaptation in order to keep their young clean and healthy.
It takes about six to seven months for a baby wombat to leave the pouch for good and live their life in the wild, while it takes 18 months for them to sexually mature.
Scientific name: Phascolarctos cinereus
Some of the most charming animals with a pouch, we can find koalas in Eastern and Southern Australia. The young will hide in its mother’s pouch for six or seven months before trying it in the wild on its own.
During this time, it’s completely connected to one of the two teats the mother has in its pouch. However, even after leaving the pouch, a baby koala will ride on its mother’s back for a while.
Leaving mother is a gradual move that doesn’t happen overnight. The mother will provide her child with eucalyptus leaves for as long as she can, before once again becoming pregnant.
6. Brushtail Possums
Scientific name (genus): Trichosurus
As you can tell, American opossums aren’t the only species of opossum in the world. In fact, there are more than 120 species of opossum, and quite a few live in Australia and New Guinea.
There are currently, as far as we know, 27 species of brushtail possums. Even though they’re similar to other opossums – given that they have a pouch and often play dead – they’re also very similar to primates.
For example, they spend more time on the ground than in the trees. Despite these similarities, they still use their pouch, as their young spends up to five months in the pouch.
7. Tasmanian Devils
Scientific name: Sarcophilus harrisii
Unfortunately for the young of these animals with a pouch, there are only four nipples in their mother’s pouch, which means that only a few newborns will survive.
They won’t stay in the pouch for more than 100 days, but they’ll stay with their mother for another six months before they become fully independent. On average, female Tasmanian devils survive their childhood in much greater numbers than the males.
Scientific name (order): Peramelemorphia
There are more than 20 species of these adorable animals, and just like the wombat, their pouches are turned back, which ensures that no soil slips in when they’re digging through the ground.
Young bandicoots will spend about 50 days in their mother’s pouch, and as soon as they leave, they have to leave their mother and start living on their own in the wild.
Scientific name (genus): Dasyurus
Interestingly, only the tiger quoll has a ‘true pouch’ – other species of quoll (there are six of them altogether) convert the folds of their abdomens into a pouch, opening at the back.
Out of an 18-quoll litter, only six will survive their childhood, and they spend nine weeks in the pouch, with an additional six riding on her back. They’re considered mature when they turn a year old.
10. Sugar Gliders
Scientific name: Petaurus breviceps
What’s important to understand about these animals is that they’re gliding possums – that means that they’ll jump from a height and glide their way to the ground.
Any rational thinker will wonder how do babies in the pouch survive this – and they survive it by a septum in the pouch separating them from one another, minimizing the landing shock.
The young will spend about 60 days in the pouch, but they’ll be nourished for an additional 50 days before they leave the nest.
Scientific name (family): Macropodinae
Wallabies belong to the same family as kangaroos, but despite their similarities, they’re very different animals. We now recognize 8 living and one extinct wallaby species.
After birth, baby wallabies will spend a few months in their mothers’ pouches before trying it out on their own. They have a recurring habit of running back to their mother and crawling back in their mother’s pouch after seeing danger or getting scared.
This is why care for their young doesn’t end just when they leave the pouch, but it rather lasts for a while before the young establish themselves.
Scientific name (family): Macropodinae
The most well-known animals with a pouch, kangaroos are indigenous to Australia. After a young kangaroo – called a joey – is born, it will stay in its mother’s pouch for about nine months.
Just like the wallaby, it will start leaving the pouch in short intervals, but it will run back to its mother as soon as it is startled by something. The mother will keep feeding her young until about 18 months of age.
They’re so advanced that the mother will sometimes produce two kinds of milk at the same time – one kind for the newborn, and another kind of milk for the older joey.
Animals with a pouch provide us with a fascinating insight into a type of maturing process that’s very similar to our own. Humans are the only mammals that are born before being able to walk, but we’re certainly not the only mammal born before being fully developed.
In all cases, marsupials are animals that use their pouches to protect and feed their young as they’re developing, after which the young will start leaving the pouch and try to fit in the outside world.