Monday, May 6, 2013

K (part 2) is for KANGAROO

This is unavoidably another quite long post.  I am enjoying doing these stories of different animals and will continue to do so as I am learning quite a lot from them myself.  I am not sure they are of interest to others though.  I just hope someone is finding enjoyment from them.  If you are perhaps you could just say you have popped in for a look.  Thank you.

The kangaroo is a marsupial from the family Macropodidae (macropods, meaning 'large foot').  In common use the term is used to describe the largest specimen from this family, especially those of the genus Macropus, red kangaroo, antilopine kangaroo, eastern grey kangaroo and western grey kangaroo.  Kangaroos are endemic to the country of Australia.  The smaller macropods are found in Australia and New Guinea.

Kangaroos have large, powerful hind legs, large feet adapted for leaping, a long muscular tail for balance, and a small head.  Like most marsupials, female kangaroos have a pouch called a marsupium in which joeys complete postnatal development.

Larger kangaroos have adapted much better to changes brought to the Australian landscape by humans and though many of their smaller cousins are endangered, the kangaroos are plentiful.  They are not farmed to any extent, but wild kangaroos are shot for meat, leather hides, and to protect grazing land for sheep and cattle.  Although there is some controversy, harvesting kangaroo meat has many environmental and health benefits over traditional meats.  (This controversy is apparently whether kangaroo meat is actually as healthy as it was once considered to be).

The kangaroo is an unofficial symbol of Australia, and appears as an emblem on the Australian coat of arms, on some of its currency, and is used by some of Australia's well known organisations, including Qantas and the Royal Australian Air Force.  The kangaroo is important to both Australian culture and the national image, and consequently there are numerous popular culture references.

The word kangaroo derives from the Guugu Yimithirr word 'gangurru', referring to grey kangaroo.  The name was first recorded as "kanguru" on 12 July 1770 in an entry in the diary of Sir Joseph Banks; this occurred at the site of modern Cooktown, on the banks of the Endeavour River, where HMS Endeavour under the command of Lieutenant James Cook was beached for almost seven weeks to repair damage sustained on the Great Barrier Reef.  Cook first referred to kangaroos in his diary entry of 4 August.  Guugu Yimithirr is the language of the aboriginal people of the area.

A common myth aout the kangaroo's English name is that 'kangaroo' was a Guugu Yimithirr phrase for "I don't understand you."  According to this legend, Lieutenant Cook and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks were exploring the area when they happened on the animal.  They asked a nearby local what the creatures were called.  The local responded 'Kangaroo'. meaning "I don't understand you". which Cook took to be the name of the creature.  The Kagaroo myth was debunked in the 1970s by linguist John B, Haviland in his research with the Guugu Yimithirr people.

Kangaroos are often colloquially referred to as 'roos'.  Male kangaroos are called bucks, boomers, jacks or old men; females are does, flyers, or jills, and the young ones joeys.  The collective noun for kangaroos is a mob, troop, or court.  Mobs usually have 10 or more kangaroos in them.  Living in mobs provides protection for some of the weaker members of the group.

The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) is the Kangaroo largest surviving marsupial anywhere in the world.  Fewer in numbers, the red kangaroo occupies the arid and semi-arid centre of the country.  A large male can be 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) tall and weight 90 kg (200 lb).

The eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) is less well-known than the red (outside of Australia), but the most often seen, as its range covers the fertile eastern part of the country.

The western grey kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus) is slightly smaller again at about 54 kg (119 lb) for a large male.  It is found in the southern part of Western Australia, South Australia near the coast, and the Darling River Basin.

The antilopine kangaroo (Macropus antilopinus) is, essentially, the far-northern equivalent of the eastern and western grey kangaroos.  Like them, it is a creature of the grassy plains and woodlands, and gregarious.

In additon there are about 50 smaller macropods closely related to the kangaroo in the family Macropodidae.

Europeans have long regarded kangaroos as strange animals.  Early explorers described them as creatures that had heads like deer (without antlers), stood upright like men, and hopped like frogs.  Combined with the two-headed appearance of a mother kangaroo, this led many back home to dismiss them as traveller's tales for quite some time.  The first kangaroo to be exhibited in the western world was an example shot by John Gore, an officer on Captain Cook's "Endeavour" in 1770.  The animal was shot and its skin and skull transported back to England whereupon it was stuffed by taxidermists who had never seen the animal before and displayed to the general public as a curiosity.

Kangaroos are the only large animals to use hopping as a means of locomotion.  The comfortable hopping speed for a red kangaroo is about 20-25 k/hr (13-16mph) but speeds of up to 70 km/hr (44 mph) can be attained over short distances, while it can sustain a speed of 40 km/hr (25 mph) for nearly 2 km (1.2 miles).  This fast and energy-efficient method of travel has evolved because of the need to regularly cover large distances in search of food and water, rather than the need to escape predators.  To move at slow speeds, it uses its tail to form a tripod with its two forelimbs, then raises its hind feet forward.  Kangaroos are adept swimmers, and often flee into waterways if threatened by a predator. If pursued into the water, a kangaroo may use its forepaws to hold the predator underwater so as to drown it.

Fighting has been described in all species of kangaroo.  Fights between kangaroos can be brief or long and ritualised.  In highly competitive situations such as males fighting for access to 'oestrous' females or at limited drinking spots, the fights are brief.  Both sexes will fight for drinking spots, but long 'ritualised fighting' or 'boxing' is largely done by males.  Smaller males fight more often near females in 'oestrus', while the large males in consorts do not seem to get involved.  Most fights are preceded by two males scratching and grooming each other.  One or both of them wil adopt a high standing posture, with one male issuing a challenge by grasping the other male's neck with its open paw.  Sometimes, the challenge will be declined.  Large males often reject challenges by smaller males.  During fighting, the combatants adopt a high standing posture and paw at each other's heads, shoulders and chests.  They will also lock forearms and wrestle and push each other as well as balance on their tails to kick each other in the abdomens.  Brief fights are similar except there is no forearm locking.  The losing combatant seems to use kicking more often, perhaps to parry the thrusts of the eventual winner.   Winners are decided when a kangaroo breaks off the fight and retreats.  Winners are able to push their opponents backwards or down to the ground.  They also seem to grasp their opponents when they break contact to push them away.  The initiators of the fights are usually the winners.  These fights may serve to establish dominance hierarchies among males, as winners of fights have been seen to displace their opponent from resting sites later in the day.  Dominant males may also pull grass to intimidate subordinates.

Kangaroos have very few natural predators.  However, with the arrival of humans in Australia at least 50,000 years ago and the introduction of the dingo about 5,000 years ago, kangaroos have had to adapt. The mere barking of a dog can set a full grown male into a wild frenzy.  Wedge-tailed eagles and other raptors usually eat kangaroo carrion.  Goannas and other carnivorous reptiles also pose a danger to smaller kangaroo species when other food sources are lacking.  Along with dingos, introduced species such as foxes, feral cats, and domestic and feral dogs, pose a threat to kangaroo populations. Kangaroos and wallabies are adept swimmers, and often flee into waterways if presented with an option. (see above of how they deal with predators when in the water).

Kangaroos have developed a number of adaptations to a dry, infertile country and highly variable climate.  As with all marsupials, the young are born at a very early stage of development. after a gestation of 31-36 days.  At this stage, only the forelimbs are somewhat developed, to allow the newborn to climb to the pouch and attach to a teat. When a joey is born it is about the size of a ima bean.  The joey will usually stay in the pouch for about nine months (180-320 days for the Western Grey) before starting to leave the pouch for small periods of time.  It is usually fed by its mother until reaching 13 months.

Conflict with Vehicles:  A collision with a vehicle is capable of killing a kangaroo.  Kangaroos dazzled by headlights or startled by engine noise often leap in front of cars.  Since kangaroos can each speeds of around 50 km/hr (31 mph) are are relatively heavy, the force of impact can be severe.  Small vehicles may be destroyed, while larger vehicles may suffer engine damage.  The risk of harm to vehicle occupants is greatly increased if the windscreen is the point of impact.  As a result "kangaroo crossing" signs are commonplace in Australia.

(We were travelling home from Albany on the Chester Pass Road many years ago when we hit a kangaroo, damaging our bonnet and radiator.  We tried to find the roo but we thought, and hoped, it was not badly injured as there was no sign of it in nearby bush.  We were fortunate to be only a few miles from a service station who were able to patch up the radiator and so get us home.  The bonnet of the car had to be replaced as well as a new radiator fitted.  We felt very fortunate that the collision was not more severe both for us( and hopefully the roo as well.)

Vehicles that frequent isolated road, where roadside assistance may be scarce, are often fitted with 'roo bars' to minimise damage caused by collision.  Bonnet-mounted devices, designed to scare wildlife off the road with ultrasound and other methods, have been devised and marketed.

If a female kangaroo is the victim of a collision, animal welfare groups ask that her pouch be checked for any surviving joey, in which case it may be removed to a wildlife sanctuary or veterinary surgeon for rehabilitation.  Likewise, when an adult kangaroo is injured in a collision, a vet, the RSPCA or National Parks and Wildlife Service can be consulted for instructions on proper care.

Kangaroos have been featured on coins and stamps as well as being used as emblems, logos and mascots.  They have also been used in the names of sports teams and are well represented in films, television, books, toys and souvenirs around the world.

The Australian halfpenny stamp featured a kangaroo as well as many stamps of different denominations throughout the years.

Our Australian half pennies and pennies also featured the kangaroo for many years.

There is so much more to be told about this Australian icon but I've already probably tried your patience by making this such a long post for which I apologise.  However, I hope you enjoy it.


  1. That kangaroo lounging on his side is hilarious.

  2. They tend to do that quite a lot.

  3. Hari Om
    Another drop-by from the Aussie expat in India! I loved this post (and the may 7th on leopards, but am being loyal). You surely have been researching! It is actually lovely to read this all in one place and not be sent with links to all sorts of other pages. Not that the linking technique doesn't work, but often one is inclined to pass by the offer, as it were. So don't worry about length. It's pure quality. Much appreciated!! YAM xx

  4. Hi there Yamini and thank you for your lovely comments. Yes, I have been trying to find out as many interesting facts as I can about some of nature's wonderful and often endangered creatures.
    I have a very quiet, mainly at home, life so nothing interesting to write about that I do but love blogging so decided to try something I would enjoy and hopefully others would too.
    Thanks for visiting and I hope you will pop in again from time to time. xx