A kangaroo mother and her joey.
Credit: Renate | Shutterstock
Kangaroos are one of many marsupials native to Australia. They are expert jumpers, and even swimmers, and they live in groups called mobs. Kangaroos, like all marsupials, a sub-type of mammal, give birth to relatively undeveloped young that develop further in the mother's pouch.
A female kangaroo gives birth to a baby, or "joey," once a year, after about a month of gestation. A newborn joey can be anywhere from 0.2 to 0.9 inches (5 to 25 millimeters) long — the size of a grain of rice to the size of a honeybee.
The tiny, hairless and blind newborn immediately crawls into its mom's pouch (all female marsupials have one), where it nurses and continues to develop for 120 to 400 days. Joeys often peek their heads out of the pouch and look around several weeks before they take off on their own.
Kangaroos are herbivores, and they eat a wide variety of plants, including grasses, shrubs, tree leaves and shoots. Ecologically, kangaroos are Australia's equivalent of bison, deer and cattle in North America.
Kangaroos get much of the moisture they need from their diet, which means they can go for long periods of time without drinking water.
Like cows, kangaroos have chambered stomachs to help with digestion. They regurgitate grass and shrubs and chew them again before swallowing. They also have highly specialized teeth. Their molars fall out regularly from the wear and tear of their plant-based diet, and are replaced with new ones.
A kangaroo can grow to between 3 and 8 feet (1 to 3 meters) tall, and they can weigh between 40 and 200 pounds (18 to 100 kilograms), depending on the species. The Eastern Gray Kangaroo is the heaviest marsupial in the world, and the Red Kangaroo is the largest.
Their hind legs and feet are much stronger and larger than their arms (or "forelimbs"). Kangaroos are the only large animals that hop as a primary means of locomotion. A male's jump can be 10 feet (3 m) high and 30 feet (9 m) long, and it can reach speeds of up to 40 mph (60 kph). Kangaroo tails are muscular, long and thick at the base, which helps them balance and turn when they're hopping.
Kangaroos are highly social. They often live in groups known as mobs, troops or courts, which can range in size from 10 to more than 100 kangaroos. Males box with each other to establish dominance.
When a kangaroo senses danger, it alerts others by loudly thumping its feet on the ground. Kangaroos also make grunting, coughing, hissing and clicking noises.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Diprotodontia
- Family: Macropodidae
- Genus: Macropus
- Species: Macropus rufus (Red Kangaroo), Macropus fuliginosus (Western Grey Kangaroo), Macropus giganteus (Eastern Grey Kangaroo), Macropus antilopinus (Antilopine Kangaroo)
Kangaroos are native to Australia. They are good at adapting, so they can live in a variety of habitats — in fact, they're often found in public parks, gardens and even golf courses.
The Red Kangaroo is found in arid and semi-arid regions, where they eat green plants. Their populations shrink during droughts because their food supply literally dries up.
The Western Grey Kangaroo lives in open woodlands, shrublands, grasslands and even pasturelands in Australia, from the Indian Ocean to western Victoria and New South Wales.
The Eastern Grey Kangaroo lives in forests, woodlands, shrublands and grasslands in eastern Australia and Tasmania.
The Antilopine Kangaroo is found in monsoonal tropical woodlands in the northern part of the continent.
There are no major threats for these kangaroo species, although they may be affected by land development, loss of habitat, wildfires and hunting. Australian laws protect the Eastern Grey Kangaroo and the Western Grey Kangaroo. Red, Eastern Grey and Western Grey kangaroos can be hunted with a permit for their hides, meat and to control their populations.
Odd kangaroo facts
The kangaroo's family name, Macropodidae in Latin, means "big feet," which they certainly have.
The word "kangaroo" comes from an aboriginal group’s word for the Gray Kangaroo, "gangurru." The word was first recorded as "Kangooroo or Kanguru" in 1770 by British explorer James Cook.
Male kangaroos are called bucks, boomers or jacks, and females are called does, flyers or jills.
Females can get pregnant immediately after giving birth. A mom’s pouch will then hold both joeys, but she makes two types of milk — one for the older joey and one for the younger.
Joeys do pee and poop in the pouch. When they're small they don't produce much, and when they're bigger the pouch's lining absorbs some of it. As you can imagine, it gets kind of smelly in there, so moms clean out their pouches every now and then.
Bucks (males) grow bigger and stronger throughout their lives.
Kangaroos have great hearing, and, like a cat, they can swivel their ears to catch tiny sounds.
Kangaroos can't walk backwards, but they are good swimmers.
Kangaroos burn less energy the faster they hop — at least up to their cruising speed of 20 mph (32 kph).
The Western Gray Kangaroo has the nickname "the stinker" because it smells like curry.
- IUCN - Red Kangaroo
- IUCN - Western Grey Kangaroo
- IUCN - Eastern Grey Kangaroo
- IUCN - Antilopine Kangaroo
- Nature PBS: Kangaroo Facts:
- San Diego Zoo: Kangaroos