Mammals (from Latin mamma "breast") are vertebrate animals constituting the class Mammalia (), and characterized by the presence of mammary glands which in females produce milk for feeding (nursing) their young, a neocortex (a region of the brain), fur or hair, and three middle ear bones. These characteristics distinguish them from reptiles and birds, from which they diverged in the late Carboniferous, approximately 300 million years ago. Around 6,400 extant species of mammals have been described. The largest orders are the rodents, bats and Eulipotyphla (hedgehogs, moles, shrews, and others). The next three are the Primates (apes including humans, monkeys, and others), the Artiodactyla (cetaceans and even-toed ungulates), and the Carnivora (cats, dogs, seals, and others).
In terms of cladistics, which reflects evolutionary history, mammals are the only living members of the Synapsida; this clade, together with Sauropsida (reptiles and birds), constitutes the larger Amniota clade. The early synapsid mammalian ancestors were sphenacodont pelycosaurs, a group that included the non-mammalian Dimetrodon. At the end of the Carboniferous period around 300 million years ago, this group diverged from the sauropsid line that led to today's reptiles and birds. The line following the stem group Sphenacodontia split into several diverse groups of non-mammalian synapsids—sometimes incorrectly referred to as mammal-like reptiles—before giving rise to Therapsida in the Early Permian period. The modern mammalian orders arose in the Paleogene and Neogene periods of the Cenozoic era, after the extinction of non-avian dinosaurs, and have been the dominant terrestrial animal group from 66 million years ago to the present.
The basic body type is quadruped, and most mammals use their four extremities for terrestrial locomotion; but in some, the extremities are adapted for life at sea, in the air, in trees, underground, or on two legs. Mammals range in size from the 30–40 mm (1.2–1.6 in) bumblebee bat to the 30 m (98 ft) blue whale—possibly the largest animal to have ever lived. Maximum lifespan varies from two years for the shrew to 211 years for the bowhead whale. All modern mammals give birth to live young, except the five species of monotremes, which are egg-laying mammals. The most species-rich group of mammals, the cohort called placentals, have a placenta, which enables the feeding of the fetus during gestation.
Most mammals are intelligent, with some possessing large brains, self-awareness, and tool use. Mammals can communicate and vocalize in several ways, including the production of ultrasound, scent-marking, alarm signals, singing, and echolocation. Mammals can organize themselves into fission-fusion societies, harems, and hierarchies—but can also be solitary and territorial. Most mammals are polygynous, but some can be monogamous or polyandrous.
Domestication of many types of mammals by humans played a major role in the Neolithic revolution, and resulted in farming replacing hunting and gathering as the primary source of food for humans. This led to a major restructuring of human societies from nomadic to sedentary, with more co-operation among larger and larger groups, and ultimately the development of the first civilizations. Domesticated mammals provided, and continue to provide, power for transport and agriculture, as well as food (meat and dairy products), fur, and leather. Mammals are also hunted and raced for sport, and are used as model organisms in science. Mammals have been depicted in art since Palaeolithic times, and appear in literature, film, mythology, and religion. Decline in numbers and extinction of many mammals is primarily driven by human poaching and habitat destruction, primarily deforestation.
The Tasmanian devil
), also referred to simply as 'the devil', is a carnivorous marsupial
now found in the wild only in the Australian island state
. The Tasmanian devil is the only extant member of the genus Sarcophilus
. The size of a small dog, but stocky and muscular, the Tasmanian devil is now the largest carnivorous marsupial in the world (after the recent extinction
of the thylacine
in 1936). It is characterised by its black fur, offensive odour when stressed, extremely loud and disturbing screech, and viciousness when feeding. It is known to both hunt prey and scavenge carrion
and although it is usually solitary, it sometimes eats with other devils. The Tasmanian devil became extirpated
on the Australian mainland about 400 years before European settlement
in 1788. Because they were seen as a threat to livestock
in Tasmania, devils were hunted until 1941, when they became officially protected. Since the late 1990s devil facial tumour disease
has reduced the devil population significantly and now threatens the survival of the species, which may soon be listed as endangered
. Programs are currently being undertaken by the Tasmanian government
to reduce the impact of the disease.
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