Kangaroos are the world’s largest marsupials. A Red Kangaroo can weigh 90kg and can grow two metres tall. Black Wallaroos, at around 20kg, are the smallest species (their name a portmanteau of wallaby and kangaroo).
These include the Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus), Eastern Grey Kangaroo (M. giganteus), Western Grey Kangaroo (M. fuliginosus), Antilopine Kangaroo (M. antilopinus), Common Wallaroo (or Euro) (M. robustus) and the Black Wallaroo (M. bernadus).
The word kangaroo derives from ‘Gangurru’, the name given to Eastern Grey Kangaroos by the Guuga Yimithirr people of Far North Queensland. Kangaroos are of cultural and spiritual significance to Aboriginal people across Australia. Plus, their meat was, and continues to be, a staple protein source; pelts were used for clothing and rugs; and their skin crafted into water bags.
Like all marsupials, kangaroos have pouches where the joeys are reared, drinking milk from mammary glands. Females have one young annually, however they’re able to keep extra embryos in a dormant state (‘embryonic diapause’) until the first joey leaves the pouch.
They can have a joey at their feet, one in the pouch and another in diapause all at the same time.
Incredibly, each of the female’s four teats provides different milk for the different stages of the joeys’ development.
Kangaroos hiss and growl when alarmed, females make clicking noises to communicate with their offspring, and males ‘chuckle’ during courtship!
Kangaroos are most active between dusk and dawn, as they search for their favourite foods: grass, as well as leaves, ferns, flowers, fruit and moss. Like cattle, they regurgitate their food, chewing it twice before it passes through their chambered stomach.
Kangaroos need free water to survive; however, when desperate they’re known to dig holes a metre deep in search of water.
For gray kangaroos, motherhood is all about multitasking. Babies are born at an early stage in development — just 36 days — and then make their way to their mother’s pouch, where they will remain for further gestation and feeding until finally venturing out about nine months later.
Because the initial development period is so short, female kangaroos can get pregnant in quick succession, meaning they are nearly permanently pregnant. If they are carrying two joeys at different stages of development simultaneously, they can even produce two different types of milk at once to ensure that each baby gets the nutrients it needs at that time.
Even more impressive is that if needed, a female kangaroo can freeze the development of an embryo so she does not give birth again until a previous joey is able to leave her pouch.
Kangaroos are ruthless mothers
Don’t be fooled by the harmless seeming kangaroo that just hops around cutely. If in danger, a mother kangaroo will sacrifice its baby. The logical reason for this is because a baby can’t reproduce, so it’s up to the mother to keep herself alive so that the species can continue to thrive. A zookeeper from the North Georgia Zoo says that if a mother kangaroo has multiple babies, during times when the mom can’t support them all, she will keep one to be alive.
Red kangaroo mothers usually feed three different babies, called joeys, at the same time. These joeys are in three different stages of development. One is old enough to live outside the pouch but still needs mom’s milk. Another lives inside the pouch and gets fed there. The last is at an embryo stage inside the uterus. Talk about a multitasking mom!Sadly, when droughts occur, mother kangaroos are forced to make a tough parenting decision. Unable to produce enough milk for all three, mom will stop feeding the oldest one, leaving him to his own devices. This usually means that the oldest joey doesn’t make it. While this approach seems ruthless, it allows kangaroos to raise a higher number of joeys far more efficiently than humans (also partly due to the fact that most humans don’t raise joeys).
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Video resource: WATOP