This is a monito de monte, a little faux-monkey that hops around South America. He’s a very special kind of marsupial, one that proves that Australia was always the where all the oddballs were abandoned, only to thrive.

The monito de monte’s name gives you a hint as to where it comes from. Spanish? Mountains? Monkeys? That sounds like South America to me. And the monito de monte does live in South America. But it’s not a monkey. It is a marsupial, and not even an “American” marsupial. All American marsupials, like opossums, are of the superorder Ameridelphia. The monito de monte was the only one not in the class. It was of the order Australidelphia, and so a member of the set of Australian marsupials.

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Needless to say, scientists were terribly alarmed that Australian animals, widely acknowledged as the most dangerous weapons on Earth, were coming to South America. Granted, the migration had happened when South America, Antarctica, and Australia were all joined together, but still it was a frightening prospect. A fast and thorough DNA check was carried out. The scientists only became more alarmed. Two more members of Australidelphia were discovered in South America. They searched the Australian marsupial’s DNA, to see what kind of deadly legacies they had taken on.

What they found was that they had provided the legacy. The old fake monkey of the mountain and a couple of wretched opossums were at the base of the family tree, not in its branches. South America had given Australia its marsupials, not the other way around. This means that it was the first continent to ship its inhabitants to Australia as punishment. Once there, Australidelphia diversified and multiplied. So way to go, South America. You armed them. Next thing you know we’ll find out you donated spiders and venomous octopuses to Australia as well.

Image:José Luis Bartheld

[Source: Tracking Marsupial Evolution, Los Angeles Times]

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