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Marsupials are mammals whose babies are born in an embryonic state. The neophytes must leave their mothers' uteruses and pull themselves up to attach to their mothers' nipples. In a number of species there aren't enough nipples for the babies, so not all survive. The tiny creatures stay in their mothers' safe, warm marsupians (body pouches) and are nourished by her milk until they can live on their own. Special muscles around the opening of the pouches can be tightened to hold the babies inside. Even after they no longer fit inside their moms' pouches, young marsupials return to nurse. Not all pouches are the same. The pocket-pouches of animals like kangaroos open toward the front. Wombat pouches open toward the mother's tail so dirt doesn't get in her baby's face when she burrows beneath the ground. Koala and opossum pouches also open toward the rear. A few marsupials have only a flap of skin on their abdomens to protect their babies.

Most of the nearly 270 species of marsupials live in Australia and neighboring islands. Many, like the eucalyptus-eating koala, are herbivorous, but there are meat-eaters like the Tasmanian devil too. Opossums are omnivorous. Virginia opossums are the only marsupials that exist in the United States outside of zoos. Marsupials vary greatly in size and appearance. Red kangaroo babies, called joeys, are about the size of jelly beans when they're born, but they can they grow up to be six feet tall. Flat-tailed dunnarts never grow bigger than mice.

Marsupials are well-suited for their lifestyles. Jumpers like kangaroos have powerful hind legs. Rock wallabies have padded feet to help them cling to rough surfaces. Opossums use their prehensile tails to hang upside down. They have the ability to "play dead" so they're left alone by animals that don't eat carrion. Sugar gliders appear to fly. Flaps of skin along their sides help them glide between trees. Numbats have long sticky tongues to hold the thousands of termites they eat each day. Koalas have such a finely-tuned sense of smell that they know which eucalyptus leaves are safe to eat. There's even a South American opossum that has webbed feet so it can swim. Even though many marsupials are protected, they are threatened with extinction because their habitats are disappearing. The Tasmanian tiger is already extinct.

Initiating Questions--Levels Pre-A--A

1. What is a marsupial?

2. Why might a mother marsupial need to carry her baby in a pouch?

Follow-Up Questions--Levels Pre-A--A

3. How large are marsupial babies?

4. What are the names of some marsupials?

Level Pre-A

Main Concept: The student will be able to state that marsupial mothers carry their babies in pouches.

Picture Activity

Discuss with students what a natural history or science museum is. Allow children to share information about past visits to a museum. Talk about the sign that labels the marsupial display. Point to the tiny baby near the wombat's tail. Explain to students that wombat's babies face backwards. This is so that dirt does not get in the babies' faces when the mother wombat digs and burrows in the dirt.


Talk about children's names that end in the letter "y." Write those children's names on the board and let them point out the letter "y."

Weekly Lab

Explain that when a hole is dug in the dirt, the dirt has to go somewhere. It gets pushed out of the hole and makes a pile of dirt next to the hole. Explain that wombats can dig very long underground tunnels.

Talk about other animals that dig in the ground. Sort those animals by whether they live underground or dig for other reasons--to bury a bone, or find a nut, etc.


Talk to students about the pictures. Some marsupials have pouches where babies face forward, some have pouches where the babies face backward.

Answer: 4 moms + 2 babies = 6 marsupials altogether


Ask students if real marsupial rooms could carry their babies like the cartoon morns in the picture. Explain to students that baby marsupials are called "joeys." Give all the children opportunities to tell why a pouch is a good place for a joey--safety, warmth, because it cannot walk by itself, etc. Then, ask how human morns care for their newborn babies.


Read the statements out loud to the class. Give students time to circle "yes" or "no" in answer to the questions.

To extend this activity, read the story of Katy No Pocket (Emily Payne, 1973). Talk about how other animals carry their babies, and why those methods wouldn't work for kangaroos.

Bringing it Home

If you do this activity at school, pre-cut the holes in the cup bottoms, and guide the children through the steps for making their puppets.


Wombats take dust baths.

Level A

Main Concept: The children will be able to state that marsupial babies are very tiny and are carried in pouches by their mothers.

Picture Activity

(See Pre-A.) Additionally, ask students if they can count how many marsupials are in the picture (12, counting all the joeys). WHY FLY is saying that many marsupials live in Australia, but the opossum is the only one that lives in the United States in the wild. Talk about where Australia is, and help students locate it on a globe.


You can extend this activity by writing other words on the board and having students make them plural by adding "s."

Weekly Lab

This activity demonstrates how kangaroos use their large, heavy tails for balance. Talk about the meaning of the word balance. This activity should be done on a carpeted floor, or other "cushioned" surface. Supervise students closely, for safety.

Look at pictures of other marsupials. Discuss whether or not each animal has a need for a tail.


Students will read the numbers on the front of each koala, then draw a line from that animal to the correct number of eucalyptus leaves. Tell students that koalas are excellent smellers. They use their noses to tell which eucalyptus leaves are safe to eat!

Writing in Science

Be sure that children can read the words beneath the animals. Begin by allowing students to talk about how each of the animals are moving. Then have students write one sentence.


Lead the children through the drawing step by step. Compare the completed drawing of the koala to the drawing of the koala on pages 1 and 2 of the student level. Then, find a picture of a bear and compare the two pictures. Ask students to talk about how bears and koalas are the same and how they are different.

Bringing it Home

If you demonstrate this at school, practice a bit first. The secret is in the placement of the hands--inside the feet.

Initiating Questions--Levels B--E

1. Why is it necessary for some mammals to carry their newborn babies in pouches?

2. What animals are marsupials?

Follow-up Questions--Levels B--E

3. How do marsupials differ from one another? Are all pouches the same?

4. How are marsupials well-suited for their lifestyles?

5. How can we protect marsupials from extinction?

Level B

Main Concept: The student will be able to name several marsupials and explain that baby marsupials live in their mothers' pouches.


Read the vocabulary section together. Use it to reinforce the meaning of the new words in the text.

Answers: 1) marsupials; 2) pouches; 3) species

Weekly Lab

If you own one, you can crush up the leaves of a eucalyptus plant instead of using the oil. Discuss other smells that children react to both positively and negatively. You may wish to have students make charts to record their results.


Answers: red kangaroo, rat kangaroo, 150 cm

Writing in Science

You may extend this activity by asking students to write about (or draw pictures of) other scary creatures, real or pretend.


Talk with your students about the compass rose. Point to the picture of the compass rose on the students' page. Point it out when you see one on maps and globes. Teach the mnemonic trick "Never Eat Shredded Wheat." The first move is made for the children, but you may need to do one or two more together.


Answer: Australia

Bringing it Home

Answer: koala

If you do this activity in school, extend it by letting children make up their own marsupial riddles. If students do the activity at home, give them an opportunity to share their own riddles with the class.


Muscles around a marsupial's pouch can tighten and close the opening--just like your muscles enable you to close your mouth.

Level C

Main Concept: The student will be able to explain what a marsupial is, and be able to name and give a fact about four members of the marsupial family.


Answers: Australia, pouches, marsupials

Bonus: wombats and opossums

Weekly Lab

This activity should be done as a class demonstration by the teacher or other adult assistant. Since the activity involves lighting candles it would be wise to have some water and/or fire extinguisher nearby. Make sure, before beginning, that the lighted table candle is short enough to fit under the glass. The larger table candle will have a slightly larger flame and should use more oxygen. Therefore, the flame should go out slightly sooner than for the smaller birthday candle.


Provide a tape measure or at least a meter stick. The floor can be marked with a small amount of tape. Answers will vary.

Writing in Science

Children will enjoy the opportunity to be creative for this writing activity.

Encourage children to illustrate their flyers. If students are working on computers, they can copy and drag actual photos.


Suggest that children write up some riddles of their own.

Answer: 1) take away his credit card; 2) the wombat; 3) sugar glider; 4) the Easter bilby (They really are!); 5) the numbat; 6) baby koalas; 7) just where you left them; 8) two scoops of ice cream, some soda and a wallaby; 9) because, the children must play inside

Answers also appear at the bottom of page 4 of the student level (upside down). Also, to get students excited about the next issue of Science Weekly, here is another riddle:

Why does the mushroom always get invited to parties? (Because he is a fungi!)


Students cut out the individual sections and arrange them to form a map of Australia. Explain to students that the sections represent governing districts of the Commonwealth of Australia like the "states" in The United States of America. Australia actually has six "states" and two "territories." The "Australian Capital Territory" is not shown here, because it is a smaller enclave within the larger state of New South Wales. Tasmania is a smaller island to the south, and one of the states. It is not included on this map.


Wallaby morns can make two kinds of milk at the same time--one for their new baby and one for their "toddler."

Level D

Main Concept: The student will be able to give the characteristics of a marsupial, name 4 marsupials and tell how they are well-suited for their lifestyles/habitats.


Answers: developed, wombat, species, opossums, muscles

Weekly Lab

Plan ahead. This activity will require the wearing of short pants or gym shorts--at least for the three subjects who will be participating. This can get a little messy if you don't have some towels handy.


Point out the picture of the newborn red kangaroo joey in the picture on the student level. Tell students that the red kangaroo joey starts out very tiny (about 1 inch long at birth), but can grow to be 6 feet tall as an adult!

Writing in Science

This will draw on information learned in the WEEKLY LAB. Students should be able to see their veins just under the skin of their wrists and forearms, where they are close to the surface. The skin may be slightly raised near the veins, and in some cases students may see a bluish color. Just as people have large veins running under the skin of their wrists, kangaroos have large veins directly under the skin of their forearms. When kangaroos lick their forearms, it promotes heat loss by means of evaporation.


This type of reverse thinking can be challenging to English-as-a-second-language learners. Take time to lead them through the process of asking the questions to see which answer fits.


Answers: 1) b; 2) a; 3) b; 4) a


You might want to suggest that students trace or copy the pieces so they can use them to solve other tangram puzzles. Encourage students to create their own tangrams.

Tangram Puzzle Solution: (Shown above.)

Level E

Main Concept: The student will be able to explain the characteristics of marsupials. In addition, the student will be able to name 6 marsupials and tell how they are well-suited to their lifestyles/ habitats.


Frequently on standardized tests students are asked to read for answers to questions. This activity will help develop the ability to search for information.

Answers: 1) true; 2) false; 3) true; 4) false; 5) true; 6) true

Weekly Lab

Heat transfer is a complex subject. This experiment focuses on only one type--conduction.


Answers: June, July, August

Australia is in the southern hemisphere, so our summer is their winter.

Help students to locate the average temperatures for the state where you live, and plot those temperatures on the graph.

Writing in Science

Talk about how the mother's heat helps keep the joeys warm. Students could discuss mittens vs. gloves (mittens keep fingers warmer), "mummy" sleeping bags (body heat gets trapped inside), etc.


(See Level C.) Explain to students that this type of map is called a "political map." It shows how the country is divided into governing districts.

The Commonwealth of Australia has two territories: The Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), which is a smaller enclave within the state of New South Wales. ACT is not shown on this map. In addition to the territories, there are six states: Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, and Tasmania (the smaller island to the south of the mainland).

Where in the World?


United States: opossum; Australia (main island): kangaroo, koala, wombat, wallaby; Tasmania: Tasmanian devil; Bonus Answer: Canberra


Kangaroos are the original "Big Foot." They belong to a group of marsupials called macropads. The word macropad means "big feet."

Weekly Resources

Helpful Sources for Planning Your Science Weekly Classroom Activities

Recommended Resources

* Arnold, Caroline, Caroline Arnold's Animal World. Picture Window Books, Minneapolis, MN 2008

* Arnold Caroline, A Kangaroo's World. Picture Window Books Minneapolis, MN 2008

* Arnold, Caroline, A Koala's World. Picture Window Books, Minneapolis, MN 2008

* Arnold, Caroline, A Wombat's World. Picture Window Books, Minneapolis, MN 2008

* Sill, Cathryn P., About Marsupials, Peachtree Publishers, Atlanta, GA 2006

* Swan, Erin Pembrey, Meat-eating Marsupials. Franklin Watts, NY 2002

Internet Resources


Wombat burrows can be connected by tunnels up to 30 meters long.


New Words:





A baby marsupial (mar-su-pi-al)is tiny (ti-ny).

A baby marsupial stays with his mom.

A baby marsupial stays in his mom's pouch.


To show more than one we add "s." Trace the words.


Weekly Lab

Why do kangaroos (kan-ga-roos) need tails?

Step 1: Sit on the chair.


Step 2: Your partner will pull the chair away.

Step 3: Is it hard to "sit" without a chair?

Step 4: Now your partner will slide the bat under your bottom. Pretend the bat is your tail.

Step 5: Can you balance (bal-ance) on the bat?

Science says ...

Kangaroos use their tails to balance.


Koalas (Ko-a-las) eat eucalyptus (eu-ca-lyp-tus) leaves. Match each koala to his food. Draw a line.



Marsupials move in many ways. Write one sentence.








Draw a koala.


Bringing it Home

Move like a kangaroo.

Step 1: Put your hands and feet on the floor.


Step 2: Jump with your legs.

Step 3: Bring both hands forward.

Step 4: Try again!

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Publication:Science Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 3, 2009
Previous Article:Nanotechnology (Nan-o-tech-nol-o-gy).
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