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How Did Australia Get So Many Marsupials?

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Story at-a-glance

  • The oldest known marsupials resided in North America, “split off” from placental mammals at least 125 million years ago and evolved during the Cretaceous period
  • From the Latin word marsupium, meaning pouch, marsupials are relatively underdeveloped at birth and continue growing in their mothers’ pouches during a longer lactation period compared to other mammals
  • The millennia during which 15 or 20 different marsupial species flourished in North America, they populated what was then the “supercontinent” Laurasia  
  • Around the time land-based dinosaurs died out, around 66 million years ago, marsupials made their way to South America via a land bridge or a series of islands, which may have connected North and South America
  • Experts say South America and Australia were both connected to Antarctica 40 million to 35 million years ago, which is why marsupial fossils are found on the frozen continent, but today about 250 marsupial species live in Australia



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