What has two big hind legs, two small front legs, a big tail, a pouch, jumps, and lives in Australia? I used to think the obvious answer to that was a kangaroo. Then I learned about wallabies. And wallaroos. Being thoroughly confused, I turned to the internet. Oh my.
Kangaroos belong to the family Macropodidae, meaning “big foot”—and they certainly have big feet! But kangaroos are just the most famous macropods. There are also numerous tree-kangaroos (including the kingiso and tenkile) and six species of dorcopsis. Wallabies are divided into various hare-, nail-tail, rock-, and plain un-hyphenated wallabies (this is a Swamp Wallaby), plus the monjon and nabarlek. The quokka’s range is limited to a number of islands. Then there are various pademelons. And there isn’t just one kind of kangaroo, either. You can have red or black kangaroos, eastern and western grey kangaroos, Antilopine kangaroos, and finally, two species of wallaroos. Got all that? Me neither.
Totally overwhelmed, I began to wonder exactly what animals we’d seen in Australia. I’d just been calling them all kangaroos! For the purposes of this post, I’ll continue to do so.
While trying to identify the animals in my photos, I came across some interesting facts. For example, the Red Kangaroo is the largest marsupial, reaching almost nine feet from nose to tail and weighing in at 200 pounds.
Kangaroos are the only large animals that hop from place to place. They’re very good at it, with the larger kangaroos able to leap 15 feet in a single bound.
Kangaroos are social beings and a group of kangaroos is called a mob. If danger threatens, they stomp their feet as a warning.
Kangaroos lick their forelimbs, getting them thoroughly wet, in order to cool off. Their saliva acts as sweat as it evaporates.
While kangaroos seem strange when compared to other mammals, my initial impression was that they were two-legged deer with huge tails. Like deer, they’re herbivores. They graze in fields and woodland clearings, and their faces are definitely deer-like. But unlike deer (and more like cows), kangaroos regurgitate their food and re-chew it before finally digesting it.
Anyone familiar with Winnie-the-Pooh knows that kangaroos (and all marsupials) keep their young in a pouch. But how do they get there? Kangaroos are only pregnant for about a month, giving birth to a tiny bean-sized baby called a joey. (This sounds so much easier than the way we do it!) Extremely undeveloped at this point, somehow the joey manages to find its way up its mother’s abdomen and into the pouch, where it latches on and begins nursing. As it grows, the joey starts hopping out for short periods, which gradually grow longer until the youngster is on its own. This happens at eight months in Red Kangaroos, and four months longer for Gray Kangaroos. By the time they’re fourteen months old, the females are almost fully mature; the males need another couple of years to reach adulthood.
Six species of macropod are already extinct, and many more are threatened. These tend to be species with very limited ranges, such as the Parma Wallaby, which survives in the wild only as small colonies along the coast of New South Wales. The Banded Hare-Wallaby and the Rufous Hare-Wallaby (aka Mala) are both only found on some islands off Australia’s western coast.
Kangaroos were at the top of my “must-see” list, but would we actually see any? I needn’t have worried. In Australia, kangaroos out-number people!