The marsupials had previously been classified in one order, Marsupialia (mahr-soo-pee-AY-lee-uh), but are now divided into at least seven orders within the super order Marsupialia. The majority of about 280 species of marsupials live in Australia, but some live in New Guinea and the Americas. The Virginia opossum is the only marsupial native to the United States.

Scientists think that marsupials began to evolve in isolation when Australia and New Guinea drifted away from the other continents more than 40 million years ago. At that time, placental mammals were rare in the Australian region, so marsupials evolved to take advantage of many ecological opportunities. Marsupials were once common in South America as well but were displaced by pla-cental mammals that migrated in from the north.

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