Kangaroo Facts What is a Kangaroo?

Kangaroos are large hopping marsupials belonging to the Macropodidae family. The four largest terrestrial macropods are called kangaroos. These are the Red Kangaroo, Eastern Grey Kangaroo ,Western Grey Kangaroo and Antilopine Kangaroo. Kangaroos have an upright triangular body, supported by two large hind legs and feet, small forelimbs and a large thick tail. Using hopping as their primary mode of locomotion kangaroos can cruise along all day at up to 32kph and accelerate to over 70kph and leap over obstacles as high as 3 meters.


Kangaroo – Description What Do Kangaroos Look Like?

General Description

Kangaroos have short fur that varies in colour from orange-brown, to grey to dark brown. Males are larger than females. Being marsupials, the females have pouches on their abdomen in which they carry and raise their young. Kangaroos live for 6 to 27 years.

Eyes & Ears

A kangaroo'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. Kangaroos have large pointed ears which can swivel independently of each other through 180°.

Teeth

The kangaroo has large outward projecting front incisor teeth which it uses to slice through grass and leaves on which it feeds. Large molars at the back of its mouth chop and grinds its food. The kangaroo replaces its teeth throughout its life. New teeth grow and slowly move forward replacing those in front which have been worn down or damaged. Four sets of replacement teeth are produced during the animal's lifetime, after which lost teeth are no longer replaced. If the animal hasn't died of old age by then, it will eventually die of starvation because it has no teeth left.

Sound (Vocalisation)

Kangaroos 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 kangaroo may hiss and growl. A kangaroo may display aggression by making a "ha" sound. A male kangaroo may also make a chuckling sound during courtship.

Kangaroo Fore-Limbs (Arms)

The kangaroo 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 kangaroo 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.

Hind Legs

The kangaroo 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 kangaroo has long narrow feet with four toes each. Its feet have soft pads, like that of a cat or dog. 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 kangaroo used these two smaller toes for grooming. While highly efficient at higher speeds the kangaroo's hind legs are ineffective at low speeds and hardly used. It uses pentapedaling locomotion at slow speeds. The kangaroo 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 kangaroos of danger or as a warning to a predator to stay away, or both.

Tail

The kangaroo's large thick tail serves a number of purposes. Without it a kangaroo wouldn't be able to stand up, hop or move at slow speeds. It is also where a kangaroo stores excess fat for use in times of hardship. When a kangaroo 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 kangaroo springs up from a standstill position. While hopping, the tail acts are a counterbalance to its body, preventing the kangaroo from tipping forward. At slow speeds the tail is a vital part of its pentapedaling movement. The kangaroo also stands up on its tail when it is fighting.

Pouch

Beings a marsupial mammal, the female kangaroo raises its offspring in a pouch and feeds it milk. The pouch is located on its abdomen. A young kangaroo, 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 kangaroos will hop back into their mothers pouch when frightened. Male kangaroos don't have pouches.

Other Facts

Kangaroos are mainly crepuscular. That is, they are most active around dawn and dusk and this activity can continue into the night. Kangaroos usually rest during the day but it is not uncommon the see a mob of kangaroos moving through the countryside during the daytime. Surprisingly, for an animals which spends most of its life in dry arid areas, kangaroos are also good swimmers. Kangaroos move about in small social groups called 'mobs' or 'troops'.

Related: How Did the Kangaroo Get its Name?


How Does a Kangaroo Move? Kangaroos Hop and Jump

The Kangaroo has 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. It is the only large animal that uses this method of locomotion. The kangaroo's legs are specially designed for this purpose.

Using this method of locomotion a Red Kangaroo, for example, usually hops at a speed of about 20-25 kph. It can also speed away at over 70kph and leap over 3 meter obstacles when required. These kangaroos have been recorded travelling up to 20 kilometres at speeds of 40kph without a stopping for a rest. A single hop from a kangaroo can cover up to 8 meters! A human stride is only about 1 meter. Even an elephant can only manage about 2.5 meters. Because of the unusual shape of these legs and, its bulky tail which it uses to balance, a kangaroo can't walk or move backwards.

Related: How Does a Kangaroo Hop – How It Works


Kangaroo – Habitat & Distribution Where do Kangaroos Live?

Kangaroos are found throughout the Australian mainland and on the island of Tasmania. They live in temperate to hot climates and are not found in areas with snow.

The red kangaroo lives in the arid and semi-arid interior of Australia. It prefers open plains, grasslands and desert with some trees for shelter from the hot sun. The eastern grey kangaroo lives in more moist scrub-lands of eastern, southern and south western Australia. The western grey kangaroo is found throughout the southern parts of Australia and lives in grasslands and open woodlands. The antilopine kangaroo lives in topical woodlands in the northern parts of Australia where there is grass beneath the forest canopy.


Kangaroo – Diet What Do a Kangaroos Eat?

Kangaroos are herbivores. They eat mostly grass but they also eat flowers, leaves, ferns, moss and even insects. They prefer to feed early in the morning and late evening when it's cool. They rest in the shade during the day.

The Kangaroo's
Environmentally Friendly Farts

A kangaroo produces almost no methane (Ch4). Its digestive system converts hydrogen by-products into acetate which it uses to provide energy. The kangaroo releases carbon dioxide (CO2) which is 23 times less harmful to the environment than methane produced by sheep & cattle.

The Kangaroo has a chambered stomach similar to that of a horse. Its U-shaped fore-stomach helps it digest fibrous plant material too tough for even goats to handle. The kangaroo 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 Kangaroo is well adapted to the dry hot Australian climate. It needs very little water extracting moisture it needs from its food. A kangaroo requires only 13% of the water required by a sheep. It can survive for months without drinking.

Kangaroos also have an excellent sense of the weather and have been known to detect rainfall as far as 20 kilometres away and head towards it.


Kangaroo – Reproduction Baby Kangaroo (Joey)

A baby kangaroo is known as a joey. It is extremely tiny when it is born. In fact, it is no larger than a jelly-bean (2cm) and weighs as little as one gram. Imagine a human mother, who is about the same size as a kangaroo, having a baby that was only the size of a jelly-bean? (Human babies are about 3,500 times larger!).

The reason kangaroo babies are so small is because kangaroos 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

Joey Crawling to Pouch Video

A kangaroo 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 motion, the young joey crawls laborious up its mother's fur to the pouch. This journey takes it about three minutes. The joey makes this journey entirely by itself. The mother does not assist it in any way.

Once inside its mother's pouch the joey quickly attaches itself firmly to one of four nipples in the pouch and remain there for many months. The mother kangaroo has strong muscles in its pouch walls and entrance, and can constrict them to keep the young joey firms tucked away to prevent it from bouncing or accidentally falling out as it hops about.

Stage 2

Joey's First Hop Video

About six and a half months later a fully furred little joey will start to tentatively pop its head out of its mother's pouch and observe the world around it. Approximately 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. It will still stay close to its mother for another six months or so before becoming fully independent.

Related: Kangaroo Reproduction – Detailed Explanation


Kangaroos – Boxing Kangaroos Fighting

Kangaroo Fight (Boxing) Video

Kangaroos fight less than most other types of herbivores. A male kangaroo 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 kangaroos hurt each other during fights.

Contrary to popular folklore a Kangaroo doesn't box like humans do.


Kangaroo – Swimming They are Good Swimmers

Kangaroo Swimming Video

Kangaroos 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 kangaroos swimming far out at sea.

The kangaroo swims by 'dog-paddling' with all four limbs. It can swim at a reasonable speed. While usually a kangaroo moves its rear legs in union, keeping them together when it hops, while swimming its moves them independently.


Kangaroo – Predators and Threats What Kills Kangaroos?

Being large animals with powerful clawed feet and powerful kicks, kangaroos do not have any natural predators. Young animals may occasionally fall prey to eagles and dingoes.

Both domestic and wild dogs also attack kangaroos. The kangaroo is a good swimmer and if pursued by a predator, it may flee into waterways and use its clawed forepaws to grab its assailant and hold it underwater till it drowns.

The major causes of red kangaroo fatalities are droughts, motor vehicle road kills, hunting and intentional culling by governments.


Kangaroo – Conservation Status Is the Kangaroo Endangered?

The Australian government estimates that there are 50-60 million kangaroos. Because of their large numbers and because they can sometimes cause serious crop damage and deplete farmer's water reserves the government allows limited kangaroo culling and harvesting. Permits are issued for the killing of 1-2 million animals each year.

The kangaroo is not considered to be threatened and is listed by the ICUN as an animal of "least concern".


Differences between Kangaroo and Wallaby

Physical Differences

The most noticeable difference between a kangaroo and wallaby is size. In general a kangaroo is larger than a wallaby but sizes can overlap. Another visual difference is that because a kangaroo is built for speed on open terrain and its hind legs are longer between the ankles and knees compared to a wallaby which usually prefers forested areas where it needs to be more agile to navigate through a forest.

Scientific Differences

A scientific way to differentiate the two is to examine their teeth. The wallaby which lives in forests and feeds 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.

Related: Wallaby - Australian Wallaby Facts


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