There is much to be urged in favour of either view; and in adopting the former alternative, it must be borne in mind that the difference between monotremes and marsupials is vastly greater than that which separates the latter from placentals.
According to the latter, the early monotremes which became specialized into modern monotremes, gave rise to the ancestors of the modern marsupials; while the modern placentals are likewise an offshoot from the ancestral marsupial stcck.
Further, it is considered that too much weight has been assigned to the characters distinguishing monotremes from other mammals, foetal marsupials showing a monotreme type of coracoid, while it is probable that in the long run it will be found impossible to maintain the essential dissimilarity between the milk-glands of monotremes and other mammals.
Monotremes (2 species) and marsupials (4 families and 44 species) predominate, but are not abundant.
Although the present article does not discuss mammalian osteology in general (for which see Vertebrata), it is interesting to notice in this connexion that the primitive condition of the mammalian tympanum apparently consisted merely of a small and incomplete bony ring, with, at most, an imperfect ventral wall to the tympanic cavity, and that a close approximation to this original condition still persists in the monotremes, especially Ornithorhynchus.
Adult monotremes are in like case, although the duckbilled platypus (Ornithorhynchus) has teeth when young on the sides of the jaws.
Others however (inclusive of Tritylodon and Microlestes, if they be really mammals), seem nearer to the Monotremata; and the question has yet to be decided whether placentals and marsupials on the one hand, and monotremes on the other are not independently derived from reptilian ancestors.
These three classes are the Monotremata (or Prototheria), the Marsupialia (Didelphia, or Metatheria), and the Placentalia (Monodelphia, or Eutheria); the distinctive characters of each being given in separate articles (see Mono Tremata, Marsupialia and Monodelphia.) The existing monotremes and marsupials are each represented only by a single order; but the placentals are divided into the following ordinal and subordinal groups, those which are extinct being marked with an asterisk (*) i.
Very different, on the other hand, is the condition of things in Australia and Papua, where marsupials (and monotremes) are the dominant forms of mammalian life, the placentals being represented (apart from bats, which are mainly of an Asiatic type) only by a number of more or less aberrant rodents belonging to the mouse-tribe, and in Australia by the dingo, or native dog, and in New Guinea by a wild pig.
The name scaly anteater is applied to the pangolin; the banded anteater (Myrmecobius fasciatus) is a marsupial, and the spiny anteater (Echidna) is one of the monotremes (see Marsupialia and Monotremata).
In common with the other monotremes, the male echidna has its heel provided with a sharp hollow spur, connected with a secreting gland, and with muscles capable of pressing the secretion from the gland into the spur.