Archive for the ‘Marsupials’ Category

pig-footed bandicoot

I think it’s really hard for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere to understand what special place Australia is in terms of biodiversity.

It is largest area in the world that has been isolated from the rest of the continents long enough for evolution to take an entirely different course, but when Europeans came, so much of the biodiversity wound up disappearing. Unfortunately, this is still going on.

One animal I wish we’d been able to study more closely before it became extinct is the pig-footed bandicoot (Chaeropus ecaudatus). This animal was a bandicoot that had evolved something similar to cloven hooves on the front feet. Cloven hooves, are the trademark of the Artiodactyls, the very successful group of placental mammals that includes cows, sheep, goats, deer, and pigs. But here was a bandicoot that had them on its front feet. Its hind feet had a single “hoof,” with two vestigial toes higher up the leg, which were almost like the double dewclaws of a Great Pyrenees or Beauceron.

No other animal, placental or otherwise, has produced such an unusual toe arrangement.

We know very little about this animal. It was rare when Europeans arrived. It’s gone now. We don’t know what killed it off. Cats usually get the blame. The end of aboriginal burning also gets pointed out. Burning created areas where new shoots could pop up, and this omnivorous animal was able to us those areas as its main habitat.

The truth is there just so much we don’t know. There is even debate about how well this animal actually moved and why it would evolve such unusual toes.

We have eye witness accounts, and the animals were reported to be alive as late as the 1950s. But not enough zoologists were interested in them at the time, and they were exceedingly rare. So we’ve got horrible gaps in knowledge about them.

This actually isn’t that unusual. Look up the literature on marsupial moles, which are similarly quite rare and horribly under-studied.

Because the pig-footed bandicoot went extinct only in the 1950s, there is actually a bit better chance that there might be a few living out in some remote region than there is for extant thylacines. For some reason, this animal has never captured the imaginations of any naturalists in the same way the thylacine has.

But here we have a sort of marsupial “chevrotain,” which is every bit as interesting as a marsupial “wolf.”

Parallel evolution is always pretty cool.

It’s a shame that species go extinct before we can learn about them.

Read Full Post »

Got this ‘possum in cage

It’s a little female Virginia opossum.



The much ballyhooed prehensile tail:



Read Full Post »

Remarkable discovery in the snow!

Thylacine sighting



Read Full Post »

Old opossum

old opossom

I get opossums on the trail camera fairly regularly, and because I find them somewhat less interesting than other animals, I usually don’t post their photos on here.

This one, however, is kind of interesting because it has the features of a very mature individual. Now, keep in mind that Virginia opossums don’t live very long, even though they are about the size of a domestic cat. In captivity, their record longevity is a measly four years.

But this individual is at least on its second year.  The frostbitten ears suggest that it has survived more than couple of very hard freezes.

As opossums mature, they get a lumpy head profile.  When they are younger, they have a more collie- or borzoi-like head, but as they get up in years, this starts to change.

This opossum is the most primitive mammal north of the Rio Grande, and when I say this, I don’t mean that it’s primitive because it’s a marsupial. It’s actually a primitive marsupial, meaning that it looks very much like the earliest mammals that gave rise to all marsupials. Indeed, it is so primitive that the similarities between New World opossums and the West Indian solenodons are pretty striking. The two species of solenodon retain many primitive features of the ancestral placental mammals, and it would make sense that the primitive opossums and primitive solenodons would look somewhat similar to each other.

Beyond their taxonomy, there aren’t really that many amazing things about opossums. They don’t have very complex behavior.  There are claims of them having amazing intelligence that one can find online, but these clams are not born out in reality.

The thing is, you don’t have to be too smart if you can eat just about anything and reproduce by having dozens of offspring every year.

And even though they are primitive, natural selection has still worked its ways on their kind, but it’s just not change them as much as it has us, coyotes, or red kangaroos.




Read Full Post »

An old opossum

This old opossum is a survivor. It looks like it even has a bit of frost bite on the ears from last winter.

old opossum 

old opossum I

Read Full Post »

Intelligent “dog with hands” versus primitive (and quite stupid) marsupial:


Read Full Post »

Treed opossum, 1917

opossum treed 1917

This photo comes from Mammals of America by Harold Elmer Anthony. This book was published in 1917, so it unfortunately refers to the opossum hunter as a “Southern Darkey.”

Of course, African Americans living the South often hunted opossums for meat, and they relied upon good treeing dogs to assist them in their hunts.

This dog appears to be of a farm shepherd type, but just as often, they would rely upon their curs or feists to tree the marsupials, which they usually captured alive.   To get the opossum out of the tree, they would shake the tree to make it fall out.

The opossum would then be brought home in a burlap sack and then fed table scraps for several weeks to make the flesh taste better. Opossums are known carrion eaters, and it was commonly believed that the carrion diet tainted the meat.

After a few weeks of being fed table scraps,  they would slaughter the opossum.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,139 other followers

%d bloggers like this: