Discovery of marsupials
toomey at denr1.igis.uiuc.edu
Wed Sep 20 08:33:27 EST 1995
mgk at darwin.clas.Virginia.EDU (Mahlon G. Kelly) writes:
>doslic at faust.irb.hr writes:
>> I would like to know when Europeans first discovered marsupials. Which
>> animal was the first marsupial known to European science? What was it's
>> taxonomic position? And in which way discovery of marsupials affected
>> established taxonomic schemes?
>I believe it must have been the American opossum. I believe
>(but am not certain) it was described by Linneaus. Since the
>first Europeans in America would have seen it, long before any
>in Australia, it must have been the first.
Dr. Kelly is indeed correct that the American possum was first described
by Linneaus. Didelphis marsupialis (the Southern Opossum) is the
type species of the genus Didelphis (which also included the genera
Caluromys and Marmosa in Linneaus's description) (Linneaus Syst. Nat.,
ed. 10, 1:54).
The first marsupial to come to the attention of Europeans was apparently
a female southern opossum from Brazil that was presented to the royal
court of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain by the explorer Pinzon. This
occurred in the year 1500. The monarchs are reported to have dubbed
the animal (which had young in its pouch) an "incredible mother."
(M.A. O'Connell, American Opossums, IN D. Macdonald, ed., The
Enyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File Publications, p.
Russell (1984, Marsupials, p. 824-829 in D. Macdonald, Encyclopedia
of Mammals) notes the following:
The first marsupials brought from South America to Europe in the
16th century were considered zoological curiosites. It was not
until the exploration and settlement of Australia from 1770
onwards that a sufficient variety of species was collected for
European zoologists to realize that, rather than a few aberrant
rodents, they were dealing with a natural group of mammals
which shared a most unusual mode of reproduction. (p. 824).
Sorry I don't have any primary sources to recommend. Good luck in
your search for the history of thought on marsupials.
Illinois State Museum
toomey at museum.state.il.us
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