Kangaroos are macropods and there are over 50 species of macropods (a general term for kangaroos, wallabies, pademelons, potoroos and bettongs) found in Australia – and a few more in Papua New Guinea. Most macropods have hind legs that are bigger than their forelimbs, big feet and a muscular tail.
They are a pretty interesting bunch of creatures. Here, a few fascinating facts.
Big and small
The largest extant (opposite of extinct) marsupial is the Red Kangaroo, with the largest ever-confirmed male Red Kangaroo recorded standing at a whopping 2.1 metres tall. Australia’s smallest kangaroo is found in Far North Queensland. “The Musky Rat-Kangaroo can be found throughout the region feeding on the forest floor during the day time. As well as being the smallest kangaroo in existence, the Musky Rat-Kangaroo has survived in Australian forests for more than 20 million years,” exclaims owner and operator of FNQ Nature Tours, James Boettcher.
Musky Rat-Kangaroo in the Wet Tropics in Far North Queensland
Embryonic diapause refers to a pretty amazing reproductive strategy, where an embryo is suspended at blastocyst stage. It occurs in various mammals – including macropods – and regulates when birth takes place. Almost all kangaroos have embryonic diapause, with environmental factors and lactation both playing key roles in making them almost continuous breeders. Intriguingly, the Western Grey Kangaroo missed out on embryonic diapause. “Somewhat unusually for a kangaroo, the female Western Grey Kangaroo does not carry dormant embryos in the uterus while still suckling the first young in the pouch, says David Doudle, founder of Goin’ Off Safaris.
Western Grey Kangaroo in Lincoln National Park, Eyre Peninsula
The Tammar Wallaby has the longest stage of embryonic diapause of all mammals, and unlike most macropods, birth almost always takes place in late January. “Tammar Wallabies are stimulated to reproduce by the passing of the summer solstice, with an egg which has been fertilised and is in diapause in utero being triggered to begin development. Typical of marsupials, development is short and young are born 31 days later at an incredibly early stage of development,” explains Craig Wickham, managing director of Exceptional Kangaroo Island tours. “Females mate again within a day of giving birth and once fertilisation of this egg takes place, the diapause cycle starts again.”
Tammar Wallaby on Kangaroo Island, Photo Credit: Craig Wickham
All kangaroos have a very short gestation, after which the tiny newborn joey climbs into the pouch and gets comfy, attaching itself to one of its mother’s four nipples. “In common with other marsupials, most development occurs in the pouch, with the joey first emerging after around 280 days and suckling until about 17 months old,” says Goin’ Off Safaris founder David.
Mothers and daughters
The social life of kangaroos – in particular female kangaroos – is fascinating. Janine, co-owner and founder of Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours, explains that mothers and daughters stay together their entire lives and seem to recognise each other as such. “We have witnessed some very touching displays of family bond, including a grown kangaroo daughter that refused to leave her mother’s side, even though the mother was fatally injured,” she says.
Eastern Grey Kangaroos at the You Yangs, Victoria, Photo Credit: Echidna Walkabout Nature Tours
Loud and powerful
Grey Western Kangaroos are one of the louder species of macropods, clicking to communicate with each other and even growling as a defense mechanism. Like many other kangaroo species, the males engage in boxing-like contests to work out who is the strongest – and will consequently have the right to mate with the females. “During autumn and winter male Western Grey Kangaroos live in large groups away from the females and engage in threat displays and fights to establish dominance, with the largest, most dominant males having first access to the females in the spring,” says David, founder of Goin’ Off Safaris.
Isolated from mainland Tasmania, Maria Island is a sanctuary for the wildlife that call the island home. “Maria Island has three macropods,” says director of The Maria Island Walk, Ian Johnstone. “The Eastern Grey Kangaroo, the Red-Necked or Bennett’s Wallaby and the Tasmanian Pademelon. The first two were introduced to the island in the 1970s as part of the Noah’s Ark program. Eastern Grey Kangaroos are the second largest kangaroo in the world.”
The Wilkins’ Rock Wallaby was only recognised as a wallaby species in 2014, taking the number of Australian wallaby species to 17. The cute critters are tiny (weighing around two to three kilograms) and ever so cute with their reddish forearms and striped forehead appearance. “They live among the rocks – the rocks acting as protection against dingoes and cats,” explains Sab Lord of Lord Safaris, who takes guests on 4WD tours through Kakadu and Arnhem Land.
Wilkins' Rock Wallaby in Kakadu National Park
Another wallaby worth a mention, is the Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby found in South Australia. “Formerly known as the Ring-Tailed Wallaby, this beautiful marsupial mammal was threatened to the point of near extinction,” says Brendon Bevan, conservation and general manager at Arkaba. “This is largely due to Operation Bounceback and it’s a genuine survival story after competition with feral herbivores as far as vegetation, water and habitat is concerned. There is an estimated remaining population of approximately 2,000 in South Australia.”
Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby in the Flinders Ranges National Park