The kangaroo is a singular creature. What other animal can jump
a distance of 28 feet, or a height of 6 feet? What other animal
can hop at speeds of 43 miles per hour? What other animal uses its
muscular tail as a third “leg” to help balance and stabilize and
holds kickboxing matches to determine breeding rights? There’s only
one animal that fits this description—the kangaroo.
At the mention of the word kangaroo two words instantly jump into
people’s minds: pouch and Australia. Indeed, these large
marsupials are natives to the land down under. Three species of
kangaroos populate the continent: Reds, Eastern Grays, and Western
Grays. Since man appeared 50,000 years ago kangaroos have been an
important resource to Australia’s Indigenous peoples and have been
used for food, clothing, and shelter. They are still hunted today,
but only under strict government control. Specially adapted for
the fragile ecosystem, kangaroos thrive in their home.
Kangaroos are the largest surviving marsupials in the world. A
male buck can reach 6 ½ feet tall, and weigh 200 pounds. Female
flyers are slightly smaller. Their babies, called joeys, are born
at only 31-36 days gestation. (This is developmentally equivalent
to a 7 week old human embryo!) At only 0.35 ounces, the joey’s forelimbs
are developed enough to climb from the birth canal to its mother’s
pouch, where it attaches to one of four teats. There it stays cuddled
up for nine months, transforming from a hairless, pink, bean-sized
mite, to an irresistibly furry, doe-eyed darling. Then it will venture
out of the security of its pouch for a short adventure before hopping
back in. Its mother will feed and protect it another nine months,
until her next joey is born. Flyers are perpetually pregnant once
they reach maturity. Immediately after giving birth they go into
heat. The fertilized embryo will go into a dormant state until the
older joey has vacated the pouch. The milk produced by the flyer
is specially suited to its growing joey’s needs. If she is simultaneously
feeding an older and a younger joey, a flyer may produce two different
kinds of milk!
The rangeland where kangaroos graze is hot and arid, but kangaroos
are suited for their environment. To conserve energy and keep cool
kangaroos are crepuscular, meaning that they rest during
the day and are most active at twilight hours. They shelter under
trees and in caves and rock clefts during the day. Instead of sweating
and panting, kangaroos lick themselves all over to cool off. Their
long hindquarters have a stretchy tendon and studies have shown
that even the kangaroo’s breathing is synchronized with their rhythmic
leaping. In this way their agile bodies are designed to be fast
and energy-efficient, two important qualities that are needed to
cover the long distances in search of food and water. Kangaroos
are not built for walking, and their legs do not move independently
of each other. Because of this they cannot walk backwards. This
fact won kangaroos a prominent position on the Australian coat-of-arms,
where it symbolized progress and forward movement.
Kangaroos travel in groups of ten or more called mobs, led
by the largest dominant male, called the boomer. Boomers
may wander in and out of the mob, but they retain exclusive breeding
rights with the females. If the mob is approached by an infrequent
predator, (dingoes, dogs, and carnivorous reptiles represent the
kinds of animals who may prey on kangaroos), the group will scatter.
Sometimes a kangaroo will fight its enemy, and can be a formidable
foe. Using its front paws to hold its attacker, the kangaroo will
disembowel the enemy with its powerful hindquarters. Few people
know that kangaroos can swim, and they will sometimes lead an attacker
to a pool. There they will hold the enemy underwater and drown it.
These traits, as well as their ability to reproduce so rapidly,
give kangaroos an advantage in the wild, where they are abundant.
Kangaroos live 9-18 years.
The story is told about how kangaroos got their name. When Europeans
first landed on the Australian continent they saw the creature for
the first time, and in astonishment they asked an aborigine what
it was called. The aborigine responded, “Kangaroo,” meaning I don’t
understand your question. The Europeans thought that was its name,
and from that time forward the world learned about the unique marsupial
of Australia—the singular kangaroo.
About the Author
Emma Snow has always adored wild animals. Emma provides content
for Wildlife Animals http://www.wildlife-animals.com
and Riding Stable http://www.riding-stable.com.