Wallaby Australian Wallaby Facts
What is a Wallaby? Description of a Wallaby
Wallabies are small to medium sized hopping marsupials that live in Australia and New Guinea. They are almost identical to kangaroos but smaller. They have an upright posture supported by two disproportionately large hind legs and feet, small forelimbs and a large thick tail. Using hopping as their primary mode of locomotion a large wallaby can easily cruise along at 25km/h and reach a maximum speed of 48 km/h.
A male wallaby is called a boomer
A female wallaby is called a flyer
A baby wallaby is called a joey
Wallabies, like their close cousins the wallabies, are marsupial mammals belonging the Macropodidae family and are scientifically referred to as macropods. The similarities between the two animals are so great that describing one is as good as describing the other. The key differences between the two are outlined below.
The most noticeable difference between a wallaby and kangaroo is size. By an arbitrary definition, the four largest macropods are referred to as wallabies. Then there are wallaroos which are an intermediate size between the wallabies and the wallabies. Hence the name "walla-roo". The next group of macropods by size are wallabies.
So a wallaby is basically an animal that’s smaller than a kangaroo and wallaroo but to confuse things a bit more their sizes may overlap.
Another visual difference is that because a kangaroo is built for speed and for travelling long distances on open terrain and its hind legs are relatively longer between the ankles and knees compared to a wallaby which usually prefers forested areas where it needs agility more than speed to navigate through a forest. Wallabies also tend to be slightly furrier than wallabies.
A scientific way to differentiate the two is to examine their teeth. The wallaby which lives in forests and feeds predominately on leaves has flat grinding molars (back teeth) with flat crowns and smaller front cutting teeth. The kangaroo on the other hand which feeds mostly on grasses has more pronounced front cutting teeth and its back teeth have curved crowns with ridges better suited for cutting and shearing grass.
There are 30 different types of wallaby. Depending on the species they can vary in size from 1.8 meters to just 30 centimetres in length from head to tail. They can weigh between 1 to 20 kilos.
Wallabies are broadly classified by the habitat in which they are found. These are the rock wallaby, bush wallaby and shrub wallaby. Some are also named based on their size and appearance. For example the hare wallaby.
Wallabies live for 6 to 15 years.
Eyes & Ears
A wallaby's eyes are located high on its skull and provide it with a 324° field of vision with a 25° overlap (humans have a 180° vision with 120° overlap). Its eyesight has a sensitivity comparable with that of rabbits, cattle or horses. Wallabies have large pointed ears which can swivel independently of each other through 180°.
The wallaby lives in forests and feeds mostly on leaves. Because it doesn't need to nip off grass like a kangaroo, the wallaby's front incisors are much smaller than those of a kangaroo. Because it needs to crush and grind these leaves, it have flat teeth more suitable for grinding. The wallaby replaces its teeth throughout its life. New teeth grow and slowly move forward replacing those in front which have been worn down or damaged. The wallaby keeps its premolars while the kangaroo sheds its.
Wallabies have very small almost non-existence vocal chords. For this reason they have a very limited range of vocal sounds. A mother communicates with her offspring with clicking sounds. An alarmed wallaby may hiss and growl. A wallaby may display aggression by making a "ha" sound. A male wallaby may also make a chuckling sound during courtship.
The wallaby has short small forelimbs with hands on which there are five clawed fingers. These hands are used primarily for grasping and pulling down branches, fighting and grooming. They are also used for pentalpedaling (crawl-walking). The wallaby has an unusual way of keeping cool. It licks its forelimbs covering them with saliva, and as the saliva evaporates its helps to cool its body.
The wallaby uses its powerful hind legs for hopping, its primary means of locomotion. It has extraordinarily large and long Achilles tendons that store elastic energy used to assist it in hopping. The wallaby has long narrow feet with four toes each. Its feet have a soft pad that runs all the way up to the heel.
The first toe no longer plays any important role.
The second toe is large and strong with a massive claw. It is used to provide traction when it is hopping.
The third and fourth toes are fused, covered by skin, but still have two small claws. The wallaby used these two smaller toes for grooming. While highly efficient at higher speeds the wallaby's hind legs are ineffective at low speeds and hardly used. It uses pentapedaling locomotion at slow speeds. The wallaby also uses its feet as an alarm by 'foot thumping' one or both of its feet. It is not certain if this behaviour is to alert other wallabies of danger or as a warning to a predator to stay away, or both.
The wallaby's large thick tail serves a number of purposes. Without it a wallaby wouldn't be able to stand up, hop or move at slow speeds. It is also where a wallaby stores excess fat for use in times of hardship. When a wallaby stands, its tail acts as the third point of a tripod and prevents it from toppling over backwards. The tail also serves a similar purpose when a wallaby springs up from a standstill position. While hopping, the tail acts are a counterbalance to its body, preventing the wallaby from tipping forward. At slow speeds the tail is a vital part of its pentapedaling movement. The wallaby also stands up on its tail when it is fighting.
Beings a marsupial mammal, the female wallaby raises its offspring in a pouch and feeds it milk. The pouch is located on its abdomen. A young wallaby, which is born very immature, crawls up from the mother's birth canal to the pouch where it attaches itself to a nipple and remains for over four months before it ventures out. Even adolescent wallabies will hop back into their mothers pouch when frightened. Male wallabies don't have pouches.
Wallabies are herbivores. They eat mostly leaves but they also eat flowers, ferns, moss and even insects. They prefer to feed at night but also graze early in the morning and late evening when its cool. They rest in the shade during the day.
The Wallaby has a chambered stomach similar to that of a horse. Its U-shaped fore-stomach helps it digest fibrous plant material . The wallaby regurgitates its food, chews it again and swallows it (chews the cud). This extra munching breaks down the rough fibres of their diet and greatly improves its digestion.
The Wallaby is well adapted to the dry hot Australian climate. It needs very little water extracting moisture it needs from its food. A wallaby requires only 13% of the water required by a sheep. It can survive for months without drinking.
Wallabies also have an excellent sense of the weather and have been known to detect rainfall as far as 20 kilometers away and head towards it.
A wallaby produces almost no methane (Ch4) gas which is produced in large quantities by cattle and sheep. The wallaby's digestive system converts the hydrogen by-products of digestion to acetate which is then absorbed and used to provide energy. The wallaby releases carbon dioxide (CO2) instead, which is 23 times less harmful to the environment than methane.
A baby wallaby, known as a joey, is extremely small when it is born – it is no larger than a jelly-bean (2cm) and weighs as little as one gram. Imagine a human baby, whose mother is about the same size as a wallaby, having a baby that was as large as a jelly-bean? (Human babies are about 3,500 times bigger!). The reason for this is because wallabies belong to a group of animals known as marsupials. Marsupial babies have two stages of development. One inside the mother like placental mammals such as humans and the other outside the mother’s body in a special external pouch called a marsupium. Hence the name marsupial.
Stage 1 – A wallaby joey is born approximately 30 days after gestation. No larger than a jelly-bean (2 cm), it emerges from its mother’s birth canal blind, hairless, with stumpy forelimb and hardly any trace of its hind legs. Using its little forelimbs in a swimming (breaststroke) motion, the young joey crawls laborious up its mother's fur to the pouch. This journey takes it about three minutes. The joey's journey is made entirely by itself. The mother does not assist it in any way.
Stage 2 – Once inside its mother's pouch the joey quickly attaches itself firmly to one of four nipples in the pouch. Once it has attached itself to its mother's nipple the young joey will stay hidden for up to six and a half months. Then it will start to tentatively pop its head out of its mother's pouch and observe the world around it. About two weeks later it will have gained enough confidence to venture out of the pouch and hop about close to its mother. However, if frightened it will immediately jump back into the safety of the pouch. By the time it is about 8 months old the joey no longer uses its mother's pouch.
Locomotion by Hopping
Wallaby Hopping Video
As with all macropods, wallabies have very strong hind legs and large feet specially designed for hopping. It has perfected this mode of locomotion to make it one of the fastest and most efficient methods of traveling over the vast distances the animal travels in search of food.
A wallaby's legs have muscles just like all other animals. The difference is that it has evolved a very efficient and different means of moving around. It hops instead of walking. It is the only large animal that uses this method of locomotion. The wallaby's legs are specially designed for this purpose. Because of the unusual shape of these legs and its bulky tail, a wallaby can't walk.
Using this method of locomotion a Red Wallaby, for example, usually hops at a speed of about 20-25 km/h. It can also speed away at over 70km/h and leap over 3 meter obstacles when required. These wallabies have been recorded travelling up to 20 kilometres at speeds of 40km/h without a stopping for a rest. A single hop from a wallaby can cover up to 8 meters! A human stride is only about 1 meter. Even an elephant can only manage about 2.5 meters.
How Does it Work?
A Wallaby's legs look like powerful compression springs at work. When it hops its legs compress, bringing its toes towards its body. This looks like a spring being compressed. Then its toes move away from its body and its bounces up like a spring being released. The concept is similar to how a Pogo Stick works.
The actual mechanics are not what it seems. In fact the wallaby gets its bounce from its Achilles tendons and ligaments in the back of its legs which store and return energy with each hop. These act like giant stretching and shrinking rubber bands. When its legs compress, its tendons get stretched. Then the energy stored in the stretched tendon, referred to as elastic potential energy, together with contracting muscles start pulling the bottom part of the leg downwards giving the animal a springing bounce back into the air. In this way a Wallaby uses very little energy to move itself about.
Wallaby Hopping is Super Efficient
Scientist suggest that the red wallaby has the most efficient method of locomotion of any ground animal in the world. As it travels faster and faster it actually uses less and less energy. At speeds above 18kph, a wallaby hoping uses less energy than any other animal of equal weight. If a foxhound were to chase a wallaby, it would consume twice as much energy as the wallaby and would tire out in less than 2 kilometres. The wallaby, on the other hand, could go another 20 kilometres and still seems as fresh as when it started.
Wallaby Hopping is Silent
Wallabies move extremely quietly compared to other animals. You would hardly notice a mob of wallabies whooshing silently past you at top speed. An equivalent number or deer, which are similar in body sizes, would create quite a loud racket. The reason for this is the wallaby's soft padded feet, relatively small footprint and the fact the only two feet touch the ground.
Wallabies increase their speed by increasing the length of their hops, not the frequency of hops. When its wants to go slow it takes small hops. When it wants to go fast it takes giant hops. All other animals increase the speed of each step, with only a very small increase in their stride.
How Fast Can a Wallaby Go?
The fastest wallaby is the red wallaby. It has been recorded at speeds of up to 60kmh. At this speed each of its "strides" is as much as 8 meters apart. (The record is an astonishing 13 meters). Because hopping is super-efficient, it can also maintain this speed for a long period of time without exhausting itself.
Because the wallaby uses bi-pedal (two legs like humans) locomotion it can easily pivot on one foot and rapidly change direction. It is claimed that it can make a 180 degree turn in a single hop. Four-legged animals with their relatively long bodies cannot turn as rapidly.
A Wallaby Can't Move Backwards
A Wallaby can make very limited hops backwards when fighting. It cannot however actually do so as a means of locomotion.
A Wallaby Can't Walk
A Wallaby cannot walk forward or backwards by moving its legs independently. The wallaby can, however actually move its legs independently it just can't do so for walking.
A Wallaby Can't Move its Legs Independently
Did You Know
The largest non-marsupial animal to hop is the rabbit, which hops using all four legs.
A wallaby can move its legs independently when required but while hopping wallabies usually move both hind legs together. The independent movement of its legs occur when the animal is turning while it is hopping, when it places one leg slightly in front of the other to execute a turn. When it uses its feet in 'foot thumping' to warn other wallabies of danger and when swimming.
How High Can a Wallaby Jump?
The red wallaby hold the high jump record too. It can jump as high as three meters.
Hopping Doesn't Work Well at Slow Speeds
At low speeds, however, a wallaby is far less agile. Its super-efficient hopping legs let it down. (See next section to learn how a wallaby moves at slow speeds).
Macropod Pentapedaling Video
Despite the wallaby's reputation for gracefully hopping through the landscape, it actually spends more time moving at more leisurely pace of about 6 kilometres an hour as it feeds and socialises with other wallabies. At this speed its movements are ungainly indeed. While highly efficient at higher speeds, a wallaby's hind legs are cumbersome and almost useless at lower speeds. The wallaby has adapted to this shortcoming by developing a fifth leg! Where is it, your wonder? It's the wallaby's tail.
A wallaby moves at low speeds by leaning forward on to its short front limbs, hoisting itself up with its tail and then shifting its hind legs forward. This method of movement is called 'pentapedal' (four limbs + tail) locomotion. Only the wallaby does this. Recent research has shown that the wallaby's tail with its 20 vertebrae acts like a fifth limb fulfilling the role of a normal leg. In this role it is capable of generating more forward force than all of the wallaby's other limbs combined.
Wallaby Fight (Boxing) Video
Wallabies fight less than most other types of herbivores. A male wallaby fights by kicking its opponent with its powerful hind legs and hitting with its front paws (which have sharp claws). These fights usually occur over mating rights and are more ritualistic than aggressive. Very rarely do wallabies hurt each other during fights.
Contrary to popular folklore a Wallaby doesn't box like humans do.
Wallaby Swimming Video
Wallabies usually live in rather dry areas with few large bodies of water. Oddly, however, they are very confident in water and are good swimmers. There are reports of numerous sightings of wallabies swimming far out at sea.
The wallaby swims by 'dog-paddling' with all four limbs. It can swim at a reasonable speed. While usually a wallaby moves its rear legs in unison, keeping them together when it hops, while swimming its moves them independently.
Wallabies are categorised and being nocturnal animals. That is they are active mainly at night. Strictly speaking, however, this is not entirely correct. A more correct definition of wallaby activity is that they are mainly crepuscular. That is that they are most active around dawn and dusk and this activity can continue into the night. Wallabies usually rest during the day but it is not uncommon the see a mob of wallabies moving through the countryside during the daytime.
Threats What Treats Do Wallabies Face?
The only native predator of adult wallabies is the Tasmanian Devil. Baby wallabies however fall victim to goannas — native monitor lizards, snakes and wedge-tailed eagles.
Aboriginals, have been hunting echidnas since their arrival in Australia about 50,000 years ago. They have had little impact on the overall survival of the wallaby population. Since the arrival of European settlers in 1778 humans have had a larger impact on as a result of , farming, grazing, land clearing and forest felling. While some species of wallaby have been impacted, and may even become extinct, the overall wallaby population does not seem to have been serious affected by these activities. One of the biggest impacts of modern humans seems to be the result of road kills.
Many wallaby species are quite prolific and therefore not threatened. But some, such as certain species of the rock wallaby, are considered to be endangered.