The group, which has also the alternative title of Didelphia, is by some authorities regarded as a sub-class of the mammalia of equal rank with the Monotremata, while by others it is brigaded with the placentals, so that the two together form a sub-class of equal grade with the one represented by the monotremes.
On the other hand, there are those who believe that the functional dentition (other than the replacing premolar and the molars) correspond to the milk-dentition of placentals, and that the rudimentary tooth-germs represent a "prelacteal" dentition.
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.
Owing to the antiquity of both placentals and marsupials, the arboreal character of the feet of the modern forms of the latter is of little importance.
Finally, there is the hypothesis that marsupials are the descendants of placentals, in which case, as was suggested by its discoverer, the placenta of the bandicoots would be a true vestigial structure.
Other distinctive features by which marsupials are separated from monodelphians or placentals will be found in the article last mentioned.
When fully developed, the number of cheek-teeth is, however, seven; and it is probable that, as in placentals, the first four of these are premolars and the remaining three molars, although it was long held that these numbers should P. ? ??
On the assumption that these functional teeth correspond to the milk-series of placentals, "marsupials in this respect agree exactly with modern elephants, in which the same peculiarity exists.
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.
With regard to the evolution of marsupials and placentals, it has been pointed out that the majority of modern marsupials exhibit in the structure of their feet traces of the former opposability of the thumb and great toe to the other digits; and it has accordingly been argued that all marsupials are descended from arboreal ancestors.
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.