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Australian Region (unless the newly-discovered Cænolestes of South America shall be ascertained to belong to the Diprotodonts) namely, the Wombats (Phascolomyidx), the
Phalangers (Phalangeridæ), and the Kangaroos (Macropodide).
The Wombats are numerically of the least importance of the three families above mentioned, although the form and general appearance of the animals of the single known genus, Phascolomys, are hardly less remarkable than those of the Kangaroos.
There are three species of Wombat (Fig. 4) generally recognised, one of which is confined to Tasmania ; they are clumsy-looking animals, resembling in their form and actions small bears. They never climb trees, but live entirely on the ground or in burrows and holes, feeding on grass, roots, and other vegetable substances. In general structure the Wombats are closely allied to the next
family, the Phalangers, although their exclusively terrestrial habits naturally involve minor points of difference, which, added to the characters presented by their dentition, have induced naturalists to recognise them as a separate family.
The Phalangers (Phalangeride), which next follow, are a much more extensively developed group of animals, presenting us with several well-marked generic forms, and with about twenty-one readily distinguishable species in the Australian mammal-fauna.
While the Kangaroos are mostly grazing animals, and the Wombats burrowers and grubbers, the Phalangers are essentially arboreal in their habits, and are much more strictly nocturnal than the two former groups. In the daytime the Phalangers lie concealed in the hollows of trees, issuing forth at night to feed amongst the branches upon leaves, buds, and fruits. The Koala, or “native bear” (Phascolarctos), of which form a single isolated species only is known, serves to connect the Phalangers with the Wombats, being allied to the latter by many characters, and amongst others by the absence of a tail, which distinguishes it from the rest of its family. In Pseudochirus, Trichosurus, and Dromicia, the more typical forms of the Phalangeridæ, which next follow, the tail is not only well developed, but is of vital importance to the animal, being used as a prehensile organ. The flying Phalangers of the genera Petaurus, Gymnobelideus, and Acrobates, do not employ their caudal appendages in the same way. But this organ, which is much elongated in all these groups, and densely clothed with hair, serves, along with the membrane extended between the fore and hind legs, in the manner of the flying squirrels (Pteromys), to support the animal in the air when descending from the top of one tree to the base of another.
One more very singular little animal must be enumerated before we leave the Phalanger family—the Tarsipes (Tarsipes rostratus), small in size, but great in interest, even among the many abnormal forms of this wonderful land. The Tarsipes is of the size and general form of an ordinary mouse, but with a long slender-pointed muzzle,
and with the nails of the toes for the most part embedded in the upper surface of the expanded fleshy pads, with which they are terminated, thus affording some resemblance to the abnormal lemuroid mammal Tarsius spectrum of the Indian Archipelago, whence its name is derived. Another peculiarity of the Tarsipes is that its food appears to be exclusively honey, no other substance having been found in the stomachs of the specimens examined, and its long and slender tongue being obviously adapted, like the bill of the humming-bird and the brush-tongue of the lories, for collecting such food.
The Kangaroos (Macropodidx) must be considered as par excellence the most important group of the Australian mammal-fauna. They are at once the most numerous in species, and in the former condition of Australia, before the influx of Europeans took place, were probably likewise the most prevalent form of mammalian life as regards individuals. In his great work on the mammals of Australia, Mr. Gould has devoted the whole of the second volume to the illustration of members of this family, figuring no less than forty-four species. Mr. Thomas, in his catalogue of the Marsupialia (12), has recognised fortyfive species.
These are divided into eleven genera, of which the best known and largest are Macropus, Dendrolagus, and Bettongia. The first of these genera contains the larger kangaroos, in which the upper incisors are of equal length, the canine teeth are deciduous when present, and all the toes of the fore feet are of nearly equal length. One of the finest and most brightly coloured of this larger group is the Red Kangaroo (Fig. 5, p. 31), which has been introduced into Europe, and breeds freely in our zoological gardens.
Dendrolagus includes four species of Tree-kangaroos, of which, however, only one is found in Australia, Dendrolagus lumholtzi of Northern Queensland, the others being confined to New Guinea. They are remarkable for the fact
that the proportionate lengths of the fore and hind limbs, unlike those of the true kangaroos, resemble those of ordinary mammals; they further differ from all other kangaroos in being arboreal in their habits, climbing trees with great facility, and living on bark, fruits, and leaves.