Diprotodontiakangaroos, possums, wallabies, and relatives

The diprotodonts, with ten families including 117 species, make up the largest order of marsupials. They can be distinguished from other metatheres because they are both syndactylous (digits two and three of the hind feet are fully fused except for the claws) and diprotodont (a single pair of incisors dominates the lower jaw, although sometimes an additional pair is present). Most diprotodonts have three pairs of incisors in their upper jaws, but this number is reduced to one pair in one family, the wombats. Diprotodonts lack lower canines. Upper canines are present, but they vary in shape from low and smooth to having many sharp, curved ridges ( selenodont or lophodont).

Most diprotodonts are herbivores, but some have secondarily returned to being insectivorous, and others have become specialized for feeding on sap and nectar. A number of species of diprotodonts are important economically, as a source of meat and leather, or as competitors with domestic livestock.

Literature and references cited

Aplin, K. P., and M. Archer. 1987. Recent advances in marsupial systematics with a new syncretic classification. Pp. xv-lxxii in Archer, M. (ed.), Possums and Opossums: Studies in Evolution, Vol. I. Surrey Beatty and Sons PTY Limited, Chipping Norton. lxxii+400 pp.

Feldhamer, G. A., L. C. Drickamer, S. H. Vessey, and J. F. Merritt. 1999. Mammalogy. Adaptation, Diversity, and Ecology. WCB McGraw-Hill, Boston. xii+563pp.

Marshall, L. G. 1984. Monotremes and marsupials. Pp 59-115 in Anderson, S. and J. Knox Jones, eds, Orders and Families of Recent Mammals of the World. John Wiley and Sons, NY. xii+686 pp.

Strahan, R. (ed.). 1995. Mammals of Australia. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, D.C. 756 pp.

Vaughan, T. A. 1986. Mammalogy. Third Edition. Saunders College Publishing, Fort Worth. vi+576 pp.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder. 1993. Mammal Species of the World, A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference. 2nd edition. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington. xviii+1206 pp.

Click on a family below to learn more:


Phil Myers (author), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate