THE marsupials are an ancient order whose distinguishing mark is the pouch in which they carry their young. With very few exceptions all are Australian, the best known of them being, of course, the kangaroos and their numerous allies. All these animals have extremely well-developed hind-legs, with the result that they hop instead of walk. Their tails have grown strong and are used to assist them in balancing when sitting up—their normal position when at rest. All kangaroos live on vegetable food. When they are born they are very small and immature. Even in the case of the Great Red Kangaroo, which attains an adult height of four to five feet, the young are only an inch long at birth. They are transferred by the mother to her pouch, there to live for several months.
The phalangers, some of which are sometimes wrongfully called opossums, take their scientific name from the fact that the second and third digits of their hind feet are joined together. They are small, arboreal animals with a prehensile tail and are omnivorous in their diet. Some of them have a membrane along their side, by extending which they are able to glide through the air for a short distance.
An important division of the marsupials comprises all the carnivorous animals of Australia. These include the dasyures, one of which is the well-known Tasmanian Devil, a small, heavily built, dark-skinned animal with tremendous biting powers.
The next order is that of the edentata, or toothless mammals. This name is not quite accurate as in some cases these animals possess teeth of a sort, but when present the teeth are always rudimentary and are never renewed. First come the sloths, all South American, living in trees and feeding on plants. The feet are either two-toed or three-toed and are furnished with very long claws, which enable them to hang suspended from the branches. In this position they pass their entire lives, and even become covered with minute vegetable growths.
Another family are the Hairy Ant-eaters, also of South
America, among which is included the Great Ant-eater. This animal grows to over four feet and has a long and bushy tail. The jaws are prolonged into a trunk-like snout, from which emerges a long and sticky tongue like a whiplash. All the feet have strong claws, and those on the front limbs, when not used for digging, are bent inwards, and the animal walks on the side of the foot. This ant-eater lives on termites with which the forests of South America abound. It breaks open their nests with its strong claws, thrusts in its long tongue and devours them.
The four-toed Tamandua Ant-eater may also be mentioned. It is in many respects a miniature of its much larger relative. It is strictly arboreal in its habits, usually being found about half-way up the trees it frequents and never descending to the ground.
The aard-vark, or Ground Hog of Africa, is an extremely strange-looking animal, nocturnal in habits, with a long body and tail, in all about four feet. The claws are very 6trong and curved and the rapidity with which the animal can burrow out of sight must be seen to be believed.
The armadillos, found only in the New World, vary in length from six inches up to three feet, and live on insects, carrion, worms and fruit. They are covered with a bony armour, which in some cases is much divided up into sections, and the animal is able to roll itself up into a ball as a protection against its enemies. All the foregoing mammals are descended from very ancient types, in some cases of great size.