What are Monotremes, Marsupials and Eutherian Mammals?

Peter Miles
7 min readOct 18, 2020
Echidna Tachyglossus aculeatus in southern Australia — Image Peter Miles.

Platypus and echidna are classified as monotremes; kangaroos, koala and bandicoots among others are marsupials; over 4,000 other animal species, including ourselves, are eutherian mammals. Of the Monotremes and Marsupials many are found in the Australian region.

Scientific nomenclature (naming) of organisms has a varying number of taxonomic (classification) ranks but includes, in a hierarchy of names from the largest group to the individual species, the following: kingdom, phylum, class, order, Family, Genus and species.

Australia’s first settlers probably looked on in wonder at the sight of the local kangaroos standing on their hind legs, then bounding off in great two-legged leaps using a big tail for balance. The wonder probably included wondering how they tasted, the people being hungry after a long sea voyage from somewhere in Indonesia. Around 50,000 years ago, during an ice age when sea levels had dropped, distances of approximately 80kilometres between islands still needed to be crossed on the journey from Indonesia to Australia for the first settlers (Migration Heritage Centre 2010).

It has long been debated whether humans took the southern route through the Indonesian Lesser Sunda Islands, including Bali to Timor islands then to northwest Australia with the Timor Sea area being mostly dry because of an ice age.

Or the northern route through Sulawesi to New Guinea which was connected by land to Australia at Cape Yorke also because of an ice age. Kealy, Louys and O’Connor (2018) have found much archaeological research support for the northern route and suggest Misool Island, New Guinea as a landing place.

Much later, about 250 years ago, a new wave of settlers came to Australia and also looked on in wonder at the strange kangaroos. In 1770 Joseph Banks, while the HMS Endeavour vessel with Captain Cook was repaired at Cooktown in Queensland, wrote in his diary on the 22nd June that year “…. Myself employd all day in laying in Plants. The People who were sent to the other side of the water in order to shoot Pigeons saw an animal as large as a grey hound, of a mouse colour and very swift; they also saw many Indian houses and a brook of fresh water.” On the 25th June “In gathering plants today I myself had the good fortune to

Peter Miles

45 years in Environmental Science, B.Env.Sc. in Wildlife & Conservation Biology. Writes on Animals, Plants, Soil & Climate Change. environmentalsciencepro.com