Few animals symbolize their continent quite like kangaroos, which serve as global icons for Australia. Despite their international fame, kangaroos are also commonly misunderstood, both at home and abroad.
Of course, there are many things to like about these animals that counteract their unpopular quirks.
Kangaroos Are the Largest Marsupials on Earth. They Come in Many Shapes and Sizes
Based on research with red kangaroos, eastern grays, and red-necked wallabies, researchers have found the animals are primarily left-handed, using that hand for tasks such as grooming and eating about 95% of the time. Their hands also seem to be specialized for different types of work, with kangaroos typically using their left hand for precision and their right for strength. This challenges the idea that handedness is unique to primates, researchers say, noting it may be an adaptation to bipedalism.
Kangaroos travel and feed in groups known as mobs, troops, or herds. A kangaroo mob may include a handful or several dozen individuals, often with loose ties that allow shifting membership among mobs. Males may fight over females in mating season by kicking, boxing, or even biting, but the group tends to be dominated by its largest male. Male kangaroos are known as bucks, boomers, or jacks, while females are called does, flyers, or jills.
Hopping is an energy-efficient way for kangaroos to move, helping them cover large distances in arid Australia as they search for food. They usually travel at moderate speeds, but they are capable of sprinting when necessary. A red kangaroo can hop at 35 mph, leap about six feet off the ground, and cover 25 feet in a single bound.
When moving around smaller areas at a slower pace, kangaroos often incorporate their tail as a fifth leg. It may look awkward, but research on red kangaroos shows their big, muscular tails can provide as much propulsive force as their front and back legs combined.
Joeys Can Go Dormant Until the Pouch Is Vacant
They Sometimes Drown Their Enemies
Some May Sacrifice Joeys to Predators
All kangaroos are herbivores, grazing mainly on grasses but also some moss, shrubs, and fungi. Similar to cattle and other ruminant animals, kangaroos sometimes regurgitate their food and chew it as cud before digesting it. This isn’t necessary for their digestion, though, and they only do it occasionally—maybe because it seems to cause them distress
Kangaroos’ tube-shaped stomachs are very different from the four-chambered stomachs of ruminants. Cows infamously emit vast amounts of the potent greenhouse gas methane as they breathe and burp. But despite similar diets, kangaroos produce only about 27% of the body mass-specific volume of methane that ruminants produce.
Food moves more quickly through kangaroo stomachs, and research suggests kangaroos’ gut microbes are in a metabolic state more tuned for growth or biomass production than for making methane.