Marupials Biology and Management

Course CodeBEN303
Fee CodeS2
Duration (approx)100 hours
QualificationStatement of Attainment

Expand your Knowledge of Marsupials

  • Identify different types
  • Understand distinguishing characteristics of different types
  • Learn about the origin and classification of marsupials.
  • Identify common external anatomical features in marsupials. Learn about better managing marsupials.

The first historic record of a marsupial occurred in 1,500 AD when Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella were presented a Brazilian opossum collected during Columbus´s first voyage. Now, there are around 330 described species of marsupials. This course introduces you to the diversity, biology, behaviour, and well being of marsupial animals and will help to apply that understanding to better managing individual animals or populations of animals, in the wild or in captivity.


Lesson Structure

There are 10 lessons in this course:

  1. Marsupial Evolution, Taxonomy and External Morphology
    • Introduction and History
    • Evolution
    • Taxonomy
    • Marsupial Orders - American and Australian
    • Families within orders
    • Comparing diversity
    • External Morphology - size. limbs, feet, tonge, tail, pouch, fur, head shape, ears, eyes
  2. Internal Anatomy, Physiology and Senses
    • Introduction
    • Neural Systems and Intelligence
    • Vision
    • Dentition
    • Digestion
    • Skeleton - head, postcaranial, scent glands and olifaction
    • Reproduction - males, embryonic development, lactation and litter size
    • Basal metabolism - longevity, lifespan
  3. Behaviour
    • Introduction
    • Social behaviours
    • Territoriality and home range
    • Thermoregulation, torpor and hibernation
    • Mating systems
    • Caring for young
    • Vocalisation and threat behaviour
    • Feeding and diet
    • Den sites and nests
    • Habitat
    • Predation and predators
  4. Marsupial Health
    • Pathogens and Parasites
    • Viruses - hepatovirus, herpes, other significant viruses
    • Cancer - facial tumor disease, other cancers
    • Parasites and other pathogens -chlamydia, sarcoptic mange, coccidiosis, leptospirosis, tuberculosis
    • Nematodes
    • White muscle disease
    • Lumpy jaw
    • Marsupials as disease vectors
    • Malnutrition and starvation
    • Pollution
    • Shock, injury, bit wounds, burns, electrocution, ocular injury, skeletal trauma
    • Marsupial health care - stress, diet, housing
  5. Marsupial Carnivores
    • Dasyuridae - Quolls, Devils and relatives
    • Dasyuridae characteristics
    • Tasmanian devil
    • Quolls - review 6 species
    • Dunnarts
    • Antechinuses - review 10 species
    • Numbats, Myrmecobiidae
    • Thylacine
  6. Macropods
    • Introduction
    • Taxonomy
    • Kangaroos, Wallabies, Wallaroos- Macropus
    • Tree Kangaroos - Dendrolagus
    • Rock Wallabies - Petrogale
    • Quokka - Setonix
  7. Diprotodontia Marsupials
    • Introduction to eombats, koalas, possums and relatives
    • Koala -characteristics, diet, reproduction
    • Wombats characteristics taxonomy, review on 2 living species
    • Ringtail Possums
    • Brushtailed Possums
    • Gliders and striped Possums
    • Pygmy Possums
    • Feather tailed possums
    • Potaroos and relatives
    • Honey Possum
  8. Peramelemophs
    • Peramelidae - bandicoots and echymiperas
    • Peramelinae – Australian Bandicoots.
    • Peroryctinae – Giant & Raffrays Bandicoots.
    • Echymiperinae – Echimiperas and Papuan Bandicoots
    • Chaeropodidae - the pig-footed bandicoot (presumed extinct)
    • Thylacomyidae - bilbies
  9. Other Marsupials
    • Notoryctemorphia - Marsupial moles
    • Didelpimorphia - American Opossums
    • Microbiotheria - Monito del monte
    • Paucituberculata - Shrew and Rat Opossums
  10. Sustainable Management of Marsupials
    • Introduction
    • Sustainable management
    • Threats and Amelioration
    • Political influence
    • Climate change
    • Habitat protection and modification
    • Control of exotic species
    • Disease Management
    • Monitoring
    • Fire management
    • Artificial habitats - conservation breeding, geographical isolation, genetic impoverishment


  • Explain the likely origin of marsupials.
  • Explain classification of marsupials.
  • Identify common external anatomical features in marsupials.
  • Explain common and diverging characteristics in the internal biology of marsupials.
  • Discuss and compare behavioural characteristics in a number of different marsupials.
  • Describe health issues that affect marsupials.
  • Identify and describe the biology, behaviour and care of marsupial carnivores.
  • Identify and describe the biology, behaviour, and care of Macropods from the Diprotodontia order.
  • Identify and describe the biology, behaviour and care of marsupials in order Peramelemorphia.
  • Identify and describe the biology, behaviour and care of other marsupials, specifically from the taxonomic orders Didelphimorphia, Microbiotheria, Notoryctemorphia and Paucituberculata
  • Discuss issues related to the sustainable management of marsupials.

What You Will Do

  • Set Task Activity (Lesson 1)
    • Research 3 species within a marsupial order from the same family or from different families. Create a table comparing the features discussed in this lesson. Spend no more than 2 hours on this task.
    • Select one of the species you researched in Set Task 1. Consider its external anatomy. Look at its external anatomy – the presence or lack of a marsupium, its limbs, tail, and more. Spend up to 1 hour on this task.
  • Set Task Activity (Lesson 2) Undertake any two of the following three set tasks.
    • Set Task OPTION 1: Search the internet (or books in a library), to find images of marsupial internal anatomy (If you type in the words “Images of Marsupial Anatomy”, you will bring up a lot of examples). Spend 10 minutes, looking at these images, then select images of two very different types of marsupials. Try redrawing those two different images, and label characteristics in the two drawings which clearly distinguish the two animals apart. Note: Even though this may seem an unnecessary task to some students, it is in fact an important part of your learning – so do not skip it. By doing this, we are forcing you to observe and detect differences; and by drawing and labelling you are reinforcing what you observe, and that will in turn increase the strength of memory you have for these anatomical differences.
    • Set Task OPTION 2: Search the internet for “Marsupial Anatomy Videos” and/or “Marsupial birth videos”. Spend around 30 minutes watching a selection of what you find.
    • Set Task OPTION 3: Visit a zoo or anywhere else where you can observe two or more different types of marsupials. Look closely at two or three different living marsupials. Notice the anatomical features of each and how they vary between the animals you look at. Look at anything you have an opportunity to see (Internal or external features) eg. the ears, eyes, nose, head shape, feet, legs, body shape, teeth, and anything else you can see. If you have the opportunity, have a discussion with staff at a zoo (or another place you visit). Ask them what they find the more significant anatomical differences between the anatomy of different marsupial species they work with. Observe, Compare, and write down the characteristics and if appropriate draw sketches. Spend around 1 hour doing this (not including travel time).

  • Start studying any time, and work at your own pace
  • Tutors include a team of world class zoologists who have worked across the world.

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