Have you ever seen a photo of a kangaroo with a joey — a baby kangaroo — in its pouch? Isn’t it cute?
Kangaroos aren’t the only animals with those pouches. A group of animals called marsupials all have pouches. Kangaroos are probably the most famous of the marsupials, many of which live in Australia. Other Australian marsupials include the koala and the wombat.
Only one marsupial lives in the United States: the opossum. Adult female opossums have pouches just like kangaroos. The pouches are used for carrying around their babies after birth.
The pouches are an important part of the reproductive process because marsupials do not have as long a gestation period as other mammals. The gestation period is how long the animals develop in their mothers’ bodies before being born.
In humans, the gestation period is about nine months. Raccoons have a gestation period of 63 to 65 days. For an opossum, the gestation period is only 12 or 13 days. That’s less than two weeks!
Baby opossums are born very small, about the size of a honeybee. Right after they are born, they crawl into their mother’s pouch to continue developing.
Female opossums typically give birth to between six and 20 babies, and they are born deaf, blind, furless and with only two working legs. The time they spend in their mother's fur-lined pouch is important for their survival.
Once they crawl into the pouch, baby opossums latch onto a nipple, where they remain, able to nurse, for the next two months. By this time, the babies — called joeys, like the babies of kangaroos and all marsupials — are about the size of a chipmunk and ready to leave the pouch.
But even after they leave the pouch, young opossums aren't ready to live on their own. They'll spend a few more months at their mothers' side. The babies are often carried on their mother's back, where they learn important skills, such as how to find food and avoid predators.
Kangaroos and other marsupials use their pouches like opossums, to carry their babies and allow them to nurse while remaining mobile. Kangaroos and koalas have just one baby at a time, but others, like opossums and wombats, give birth to litters of offspring. Different marsupials carry their young in their pouches for different amounts of time. Some species will carry their offspring in their pouches for up to a year!
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