Virginia Opossom

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Darrin P. Lunde, M.A.

Darrin Lunde on an expedition to the Bandalla Hills of South Sudan in the summer of 2013

Courtesy of Oliver Bench

Darrin Lunde is Collections Manager in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Mammal Collection is the largest collection of its kind in the world. Darrin started his career by building his own natural history museum when he was just ten years old, and by the time he went to college, he had mastered specimen preservation. After graduating from Cornell University, Darrin was hired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he stayed for twenty years joining field expeditions to the remote corners of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. He has discovered dozens of new species and shed light on hundreds of other lesser known mammals. Darrin earned a Master of Arts from the City University of New York and much of his interest in museums stems from having grown up in "nature deprived" New York City. To Darrin, museum collections are an important link to nature, and he is driven by the thought that in another century museums may be our only connection to the wild animals we take for granted today. At the Smithsonian, Darrin continues a program of active field work with his goal being to illuminate the rich diversity of mammals with which we still share the world.

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Jaw of eastern gray kangaroo (Macropus giganteus)
Photo by Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History

About Marsupial Mammals (Infraclass Metatheria): Reproduction

Marsupial mammals are best known for the belly pouch of many mother marsupials, such as kangaroos. The pouch is an adaptation to keep marsupial offspring safe, since they are very immature at birth. After no more than a handful of weeks of gestation in the uterus, newborn marsupials' hearts and lungs not fully developed. They may be as small as just a few millimeters (1 inch) long and skinny like a pinky finger. In species with a belly pouch, these puny young have strong front legs for crawling up to and into the pouch. Once there, they do what all mammals do--nurse on the mother's milk. The nourishment supports further development of their bodies, and teeth emerge. Their jaws house more cutting teeth (incisors) on the top than on the bottom, an arrangement that sets apart marsupials from other mammals.