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Introduction to Mammals

Mammals are a well-known class of vertebrates, including many familiar domesticated species and pets, as well as our own species Homo sapiens. All mammals are warm-blooded, and all female mammals possess mammary glands (mammae), which are used to suckle the young with milk. Mammals are further distinguished by the possession of hair or fur, although this is limited to early developmental stages in the Cetacea (whales and dolphins). The vast majority of mammals give birth to live young, the exception being the egg-laying Monotremata (a small group of mammals including the duck-billed platypus and the echidnas or spiny anteaters). Monotremes are found exclusively in Australia and New Guinea. Mammals are found in a wide variety of habitats, including terrestrial, freshwater, and marine systems. They occur from the deserts to the dense forests, from the deep seas to the highest mountains, and from the tropics to the polar ice caps. Only one group of mammals, the Chiroptera (bats) is adapted to flight; other taxa such as flying squirrels or flying possums can glide effectively but are not capable of true flight.