If you want to spend the greater proportion of your working life actually with vertebrates, then one of the animal caring professions may be for you. This course will give you a thorough understanding of “higher” animals’ Zoology and Evolution, together with some principles on animal ecology and morphology. The course is also designed to further vertebrates knowledge for media and tourism professionals wishing to specialise in nature.
You will learn with the help of highly qualified and experienced tutors. The course is accepted by some animal health professional associations as points for their Continuing Education Recording Scheme, category “Correspondence courses”.
Each lesson culminates in an assignment which is submitted to the school, marked by the school's tutors and returned to you with any relevant suggestions, comments, and if necessary, extra reading.
There is considerable media interest in primates: television documentaries; scientific and popular journalism; photography. There are a number of courses in film-making, media studies, journalism and photography that your careers service can tell you about.
There are a growing number of travel companies that offer guided nature tours and safaris. They require specialist guides with excellent plant and animal knowledge.
SCOPE OF VERTEBRATE ZOOLOGY
There are many thousands of different vertebrates; from fish and frogs to birds and mammals.
This course gives you a framework for understanding the way they all fit together; the diversity withing different groups, and the things that are common between different species and genera within each group.
When you finish you will have a framework for understanding all of the different types of vertebrate animals, and the characteristics of each.
How are Marsupials Classified?
Until recently only one order was recognised by mammalogists, the Order Marsupialia. Recently though, the order was broken into seven (7) orders, according to dentition and toes skeleton elements. Marsupials are also grouped non-taxonomically by their distribution in the American continent or Australia. It is believed that
There are 250 species of Marsupial in total. The taxonomic relationships comprise the following groups:
North and South American Orders
These are different from Australasian orders because they have paired spermatozoa within the epididymis.
Family Caenolestidae includes 3 genera and 5 species of shrew or rat opossums from South America. These animals superficially resemble shrews. The rat opossums are grey-brown in colour and possess a non-prehensile tail. Their diet consists mainly of insects. They differ from most marsupials in that the females do not possess a pouch and males have paired sperm. Caenolestes spp live in wet high elevation forests of northwestern South America, while the other two species live in the Andes Mountains of Peru (Lestoros inca) and in the Southern islands off the Chilean coast (Rhyncholestes raphanurus).
Family Didelphidae encompasses the American opossums, containing over 60 species. These are the marsupials that retain more primitive characteristics compared to the ancestor methaterian. Their habitat ranges from North, to Central and South America, down to Patagonia. Most are opportunistic omnivorous, feeding on a range of foods including insects, fruits, plants and other small animals. They can range in weight between 10 grams and 2 kilograms and have more teeth than any other land mammal.
They generally have a pouch, although this may be underdeveloped in some species. Their tail is prehensile, used for grasping branches when climbing. Some species show periods of inactivity during the colder months of the year (torpor). This species accumulate fat at the base of their tails to sustain them while inactive. They can be found in a range of different habitats from desserts to tropical forests, being burrowers and semi-arboreal. Male opossums are generally solitary by nature, whilst the females can live in small groups.
The Water Opossum, Chironectes minimus is the only marsupial adapted to water habitats such as freshwater streams and lakes and has an aquatic diet. It has webbed feet, water-repellent fur and both males and females possess a pouch. The pouch in the females is completely watertight. Females can dive for longer periods as the young can survive without oxygen for several minutes at a time. These animals are solitary and hunt at night feeding primarily on fish, crayfish, frogs, shrimp and some aquatic vegetation.
The Virginia Possum, Didelphis virginiana is the largest member of the Order and is found in North America. It is nocturnal and is well-known for its ability to feign death when faced with an apparent threat. This is believed to be an involuntary reaction which occurs when the Opossum is faced with an extreme threat. However, opossums can also react quite aggressively when threatened, by screeching and baring their teeth.
This order contains the family Microbiotheriidae. There is only one species in this family, the “monito del monte” (mountain little monkey -Dromiciops gliroides) that inhabits dense temperate wet forest of Southern Chile and Argentina. It feeds mainly on insects and small invertebrates on the ground and in trees as well as occasionally consuming fruit. It is nocturnal and semi-arboreal. The species is small in size, slightly larger than a mouse, has a well-developed pouch and a moderately prehensile tail which is able to store fat.
It is believed that this Order is more closely related to the Australian marsupials than the Paucituberculats and Didelphyimerophs.
Order Dasyuromorphia. Comprises the following families:
Family Dasyuridae. This family includes 61 species, amongst which there are the big Tasmanian devil Sarcophilus harisii, and the small mice-like quolls (Dasyurus spp), dunnarts and antechinuses. Their typical characteristics are 4 pairs pointed upper incisors 3 pairs pointed lower incisors, well developed upper and lower canines, 2-3 pairs upper and lower pre-molars and 4 pairs sharp upper and lower molars. They are therefore well equipped for biting and cutting a carnivorous and insectivorous diet. The marsupium is absent or not well developed. They live throughout Australasia in a range of habitats.
Family Myrmecobiidae. This family includes only one species, the Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus), which lives in arid woodlands in Western Australia. The species is characterised by 50-52 poorly developed teeth which are not used in eating except by the very young. It feeds almost solely on termites and has an extremely long tongue protruding from a pointed snout for this purpose. Numbats don’t have a pouch, their young cling to the mother’s fur while suckling from her teats. As opposed to most other marsupials, Numbats are diurnal, most active in the morning and afternoon, which matches the activity of their prey, the termites. They usually shelter in logs, burrows or tree hollows. The individuals are solitary in nature and occupy vast territories, with only male and female territories overlapping. Females usually give birth to four young which cling to her teats for around the first 6 months of life.
Family Thylacinidae. This family is comprised of one species, the now extinct Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine (Thylacynus cynocephalus). This animal was once distributed across mainland Australia and Papua New Guinea, but was confined to Tasmania thousands of years ago, possibly due to competition with the Australian Dingo. Thylacines were believed to have become extinct in Tasmania due to hunting, disease, habitat modification and competition with wild dogs. The last individual died in captivity in Tasmania in 1936. The Thylacine was the largest of the modern carnivorous marsupials. It was dog-like in size and appearance, aside from its stiff tail and rear opening pouch. It was characterised by horizontal stripes running along its back and extremely powerful jaws. The Thylacine preyed on other marsupials, small rodents and birds.
Family Notoryctidae. Only one genus, Notoryctes is represented in this family and order. There are two species within this Genus, the Southern Marsupial Mole (Notoryctes typhlops) and the Northern Marsupial Mole (Notoryctes caurinus), which are both found in sandy soils and shrub deserts of Western Australia. Marsupial moles burrow through the soil in search of larvae and worms. They are blind and lack external ears. They have a pointed head, strong limbs and large claws to assist with burrowing. They burrow shallowly through sand and soil in search of food, however it is believed that they dig deeper for sleeping quarters and to house young. Marsupial Moles are solitary animals and can come above ground, unlike other moles. This usually occurs after rain periods.
Family Peramelidae. This group includes 3 genera and 19 species of bandicoots. Members of this family range in size from the very small Mouse Bandicoot of Indonesia, through to the rabbit-sized Giant Bandicoot which weighs around 4.5kg. Peramelids are omnivorous and long jawed, eating plant material and small insects and invertebrates. Because of this, their ecological range is wide, occupying a variety of habitats. Their main characteristics are 4-5 pairs of blunt upper incisors; 3 pairs of blunt lower incisors; 1 pair canines; 3 pairs of upper and lower premolars ;4 pairs of upper and lower sharp molars. The members of this family also have long hind limbs adapted for hopping and running. The pouch is well developed and opens at the back, an adaptation to their burrowing habit.
Family Thylacomyidae. This family includes two species of Bilby in the Genus Macrotis. One of which, the Lesser Bilby (Macrotis leucura) became extinct prior to European settlement. The surviving Greater Bilby or Rabbit-eared Bandicoot, Macrotis lagotis lives in arid Australia, occupying hummock and tussock grasslands and acacia shrublands. They are nocturnal, resting in burrows of up to 3 metres in length during the day. Bilbies are omnivorous, feeding on a range of prey including insects, larvae, spiders, and various vegetative matter. They are characterised by their very long ears and elongated nose. They also have strong forelimbs and thick claws for digging.
Family Peroryctidae. This family includes 4 genera and 11 species of Rainforest Bandicoots including small mouse type (17 cm) to giant bandicoots from New Guinea which can weigh around 5kg. They are nocturnal, terrestrial and solitary, adapted to life in the wet tropical rainforests. They feed on insects and plant materials and occupy a wide range of habitats.
This is a wide order comprising 11 families and 120 species, amongst which there are the kangaroos, koalas, wombats and other herbivorous marsupials. They are terrestrial and arboreal, and may feed on plants, nectar or insects. As their name implies, all species are diprotodonts which means that they have a shortened mandible with the first pair of lower incisors enlarged to meet the upper ones. In many arboreal species, two feet toes oppose the other two, making it possible for them to hold to tree branches.
Family Phascolarctidae. This family consists of koalas species Phascolarctos cinereus. Koalas live in the Eucalyptus forest throughout eastern and southeastern Australia. Their name derives from the Australian Aboriginal name meaning “no drink” which refers to the fact that koalas gain their water from leaves. However, koalas have been observed to drink from water sources in times of extreme drought.
Koalas superficially resemble small bears, a characteristic observed in their name which refers to (phascolos = pouch + -arctos = bear). They are adapted to arboreal life with sharp claws for climbing trees. They are mostly nocturnal, and feed mainly on the leaves of Eucalyptus trees but also can feed on the stem, flowers and bark. Due to the low nutritional value of Eucalypt leaves, koalas spend the majority of their time sleeping and resting (up to 18 hours/day).
Their dentition characteristics are 3 pairs upper incisors; central pair are large and chisel shaped; 1 pair lower incisors which oppose upper incisors; 1 pair of upper canines; 1 pair of upper and lower premolars to strip leaves from lower branches; 4 pairs of upper and lower molars for chewing.
Their marsupium opens at the back, which points out to a burrowing ancestry, and they have vestigial tails. Males are larger than females, an example of sexual dimorphism (di- two; -morphism shapes). They can measure up to 60-80 cm and males weight on average 12 kg and females an average of 8 kg in Southern Australia. In Northern tropical and subtropical Australia they are smaller and lighter (an example of Bergmann’s rule), males weighing on average 6.5 kg and females an average of 5 kg. Their fur is also grey in colour, rather than brown and is thinner in the Northern warmer populations compared to the Southern ones.
Koalas were nearly extinct at the start of the 20th Century due to overhunting for their skins. Koalas were listed as a protected species in the 1920s to protect them from hunting. However, continual loss of habitat, and other threats such as attack by dogs, road collision mortality and diseases such as Chlamydia are still causing a decrease in koalas across the Australian mainland. In certain islands, for example Kangaroo Island, where they were introduced by man for their protection, their population has become too large, threatening Eucalyptus species, birds and their own survival. Management programs have been put in place in an attempt to control koala numbers on these islands, including fertility control programs and translocation of animals to the mainland.
Family Vombatidae. This family of two genera and three species is confined to Australia. They are the wombats. These include the Southern and Northern Hairy-nosed Wombats and the Common Wombat (Vombatis ursinis). Wombats are found in bushland and partly-forested areas of the southern half of Australia, with the Common Wombat being most widely distributed. Wombats have a stout body, very strong legs and claws which assist with digging. They are herbivorous, feeding on grasses, sedges, roots and shrubs and rest in burrows which they excavate. The wombat’s teeth are rootless and grow continuously throughout life. They can reach over a metre in length and weigh up to 35 kg. Females usually give birth to a single young, which grows inside their well-developed backward facing pouch. Wombats are nocturnal and crepuscular (feeding in the late afternoon and early morning).
The Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat is listed as “critically endangered” by the IUCN due to its limited numbers and it’s restriction to a small nature reserve (32km2) in Queensland, Australia.
Family Macropodidae. This includes kangaroos, wallabies, tree kangaroos and pademelons. They include 11 genera and 54 species. Their weight varies in range from 1kg to 80 kg. They are mainly herbivorous, grazing on almost all terrestrial habitats from desert to rainforests. Macropods have emulated the ruminants, such as cows in their development of their stomach. As herbivores, they possess a specialised digestive system, with a large stomach containing microflora that aids digestion. They have a straight row of cutting teeth at the front of their mandible, no canines, and flat molars that when they are worn out due to the use, they starve.
Even though they vary in size, most Macropods have large hind legs, large hind feet and a strong powerful tail. This tail is used for various purposes, in the larger Kangaroos such as the Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus) such as a counter-balance when hopping and for balance when standing erect. The strong hind legs provide economical energy use for travelling long distances in the larger kangaroos.
Family Phalangeridae. This family includes 3 species of brushtail possums, the scaly-tail possums, both living only in Australia, and 14 species of cuscuses distributed across Australia, New Guinea and many smaller islands. The Phalangerids are generally larger than other possums, the largest member, the Black-spotted Cuscus (Spilocuscus rufoniger) weighing around 5 kg and are stockier in body shape than other possums. They are nocturnal and most species are arboreal. They are herbivorous, feeding mainly on leaves, fruits and flowers, however the Brushtail Possum does sometimes feed on the ground. Females of this family have a well-developed pouch and usually raise 1 to 2 offspring at a time, less than other possums. The representatives of this family cover a wide range of habitats from tropical Rainforests to alpine woodlands in southern Australia.
Family Petauridae. This family includes 5 species of wrist-winged gliders, the Leadbeater’s Possum (Gymnobelideus leadbeateri) and 4 species of striped possums. Members of this family cover a range from southern Australia to Papua New Guinea. Most of the member of this family have a dark dorsal stripe running from it’s head to it’s vestigial tail. The marsupial gliders have “wings” (called patagium) that connect wrists to ankles. The Striped Possums do not possess a gliding membrane. Most of the family members show nocturnal arboreal habits, and a pouch that may be segmented in two halves by a septum. They can be insectivorous or herbivorous, feeding on nectar and sap by creating wounds in the trees. Striped-Possums have an elongated fourth digit, specifically used to extract insects from bark. Some species are endangered, like the Leadbeater’s opossum.
Family Pseudocheiridae. This family includes 5 genera and 14 species of ringtail possums related closely to the Petauridae family in which they were previously included. They inhabit forested areas from Australia, New Guinea and nearby islands. They are nocturnal, specialised herbivores, with teeth adapted to chew leaves and a simple stomach but a large caecum where vegetative material is digested with the aid of bacteria. Pseudocheirids are smaller in size than the Phalangerids weighing between 200gms and 2kg and have opposable first toes on their hind feet for grasping on to branches when climbing. As they are arboreal, all species (excluding the Greater Glider Petauroides volans) have a long, prehensile tail. The Greater Glider possesses a gliding membrane and a long tail. It has evolved a specialised digestive system which enables it to digest the toxins and oils of eucalypt leaves.
Family Burramyidae. This family includes the pigmy possums. There are two genera (Burramys spp and Cercartetus spp) and five species. Their range covers Australia and Papua New Guinea. The adult weight is between 6 to 50 g, and their body length is a maximum of 12 cm. Like other arboreal possums, they have a long prehensile tail. They are omnivorous, their diet consists of insects, nectar, fruits, seeds and pollen. They are characterised by their large eyes, short snout and short rounded ears.
Family Acrobatidae. This family includes 2 species of feather-tailed marsupials, one Australian glider (Acrobates pygmaeus) and the other, New Guinean possum (Distoechurus pennatus). They have long stiff feather like hairs on their tails, are nocturnal and arboreal, and small. The gliding membrane, patagium extends from elbow to ankle in Acrobates, this is lacking in Distoechurus, however, it is believed that it may have been present in ancestors of the species.
Family Tarsipedidae. Only one species exists in this family, the honey or Noolberger possum (Tarsipes rostratus). It feeds exclusively on nectar and pollen that collects foraging on the ground. It has a pointed snout and brush like tipped tongue, similar to hummingbirds. The female is larger than the male, 12 g and 9 g body weight. They show two striking characteristics: they give birth to the smallest mammalian young, not more than 5 mg, and have the longest sperm, around 0.3 mm. It lives in South Australian forests and shrubs.
Family Potoroidae. This family includes 4 genera and 7 species of rat kangaroos, bettongs, and potoroos. They are small rat like jumping marsupials with a long tail. They tend to be omnivorous, and some have a preference for fungi spores. They occur in Australia and Tasmania. Some species are endangered.
Where will this course lead?
Zoology is a field which is changing and adapting in response to the factors affecting our wildlife today. For this reason, job opportunities in this field will be highly varied in the future so current students need to "think outside the box".
Employment opportunities exist in Private Organisations, Government Departments, Public Agencies, Scientific Organisations and Academic Institutions.
The following are just some of the areas where opportunities in Zoology may be found in the future:
- Government Departments (e.g. Environment and Conservation; Agriculture; Water; Planning; Local Council)
- Research in universities and scientific organisations
- National Parks
- Wildlife management
- Environmental regulation
- Environmental legislation
- Animal breeding and genetics industry
- Wildlife refuge
If you want to spend the greater proportion of your working life actually with vertebrates, then one of the animal caring professions may be for you. This includes such jobs as zoo keepers, aquaria keepers, aviaries, aviculture and fish culture centres and companies, animal breeders, farm workers, pet shop proprietors, nature park carers, animal technicians and animal researchers based at commercial research laboratories or universities, and veterinary staff.
Some of these jobs require minimal qualifications. All of these jobs require knowledge. This course is a good start, but further studies should normally follow.