Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus)

Red kangaroo hopping

(http://www.arkive.org/red-kangaroo/macropus-rufus/)

  • Name: Red kangaroo
  • Latin: Macropus rufus
  • Classification: Mammal
  • Origin: Australia
  • Lifespan: Up to 23 years

Taxonomy

  • Kingdom: Animalia (animals)
  • Phylum: Chordata (vertebrates)
  • Class: Mammalia (mammals)
  • Order: Diprotodontia (‘two front’ ‘teeth’)
  • Family: Macropodidae (native to Australia and New Guinea)
  • Genus: Macropus (‘long’ ‘foot’)
  • Species: Macropus rufus (red kangaroo)

Apperance

  • Length: M: 1.3-1.6m (4.3-5.2ft) Tail: 1-1.2m (3.3-3.9ft) F: 85-105cm (33-41ft) Tail: 65-85cm (26-33ft)
  • Weight: M: 55-85kg (120-190lbs) F: 18-40kg (40-88lbs)
  • Height: 1.5m (4.9ft) on average

The red kangaroo is the world’s largest marsupial. They have long, pointed ears and a blunt muzzle, two forelimbs with short claws and two powerful hind limbs with large feet. The males have rusty-brown fur while the females have a blue hue (are often called ‘blue fliers’ by Australians). The females are smaller, lighter and faster than the powerful males. The red kangaroo is also equipped with a powerful tail which is used as a tripod when the animal is standing upright.

Relatives

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  • Eastern grey kangaroo (Macropus giganteus giganteus) -LEAST CONCERN-
  • Common wallaroo (Macropus robustus robustus) -LEAST CONCERN-
  • Black wallaroo (Macropus bernadua) -NEAR THREATENED-
  • Antilopine wallaroo (Macropus antilopinus) -LEAST CONCERN-

Habitat & Distribution

The red kangaroo is most commonly found in open savannah woodland, using the scattered trees for shade and shelter. They are widely distributed throughout inland Australia and can withstand extreme heats, up to 44.4’C (111’F).

Map showing the distribution of the Red kangaroo taxa

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Red_Kangaroo)

Diet

The red kangaroo is strictly herbivorous with their diet consisting of a variety of grasses, shrubs, flowering plants and foliage. They graze during the dawn and dusk hours of the day and do so in groups of around ten individuals (called a mob). They can also cope with low water levels as most of their water needs are satisfied by the moisture in the vegetation they eat.

The red kangaroo has a chambered stomach and chews the cud in the same way as a cow. Their digestive system even allows them to digest fibrous plant material unpalatable to goats. In times of drought, the red kangaroo compete little with livestock. They eat fewer kinds of plants than and require only 13% of the water required by sheep. Also, the adults have a resting metabolism that is only 70% of that of a sheep.

Behaviour

The red kangaroo will live in groups of 2-8 members, usually consisting of a female and her young, while larger groups will be led by a large, dominant male. Respectable communication within a group includes nose touching, sniffing, nuzzling a females pouch and touching the lips of another kangaroo. The males are not territorial and will only fight over females that have come into heat.

Boomers will engage in ritualized fighting, known as boxing, when females come into oestrous. While fighting, they will stand on their hind legs and attempt to push the other off balance. Fights can escalate and the males will begin to kick each other, using the tail to support their weight. These fights establish dominance relationships among males and are used to control access to oestrous females. Displaced males will usually live alone and avoid any close contact with others.

Reproduction

Breeding in red kangaroos is sensitive to environmental conditions but will happen all year round. Copulation can take around 35 minutes and the neonate will be born after 33 days. The baby is blind, hairless and only a few centimetres long (about the size of a jelly bean). It takes them about 3-5 minutes to climb through their mother’s fur to reach the pouch, once inside it will latch to one of the two teats and feed. The mother’s sexual cycle will begin almost immediately after the neonate is inside the pouch, becoming sexually receptive after another egg has descended to the uterus.

In around 190 days, the joey is large and developed enough to leave the pouch, but will often return for reassurance from its mother and safety. The joey will permanently leave the pouch after around 235 days but will continue to suckle until 12 months of age.

The females usually begin to breed at 2 ½ years but this can be delayed up until 5 years in times of drought. Females are also usually permanently pregnant however, possess the unusual ability to pause the birth of the neonate, known as embryonic diapause. This will occur in times of drought, low food sources or until the previous joey has left the pouch. Female red kangaroos will also partake in alloparental care, meaning she will adopt the joey of another female. This behaviour us also seen in wolves, elephants and fathead minnows.

Three week old red kangaroo in pouch, attached to teat

(http://www.arkive.org/red-kangaroo/macropus-rufus/image-G64910.html)

Adaptations

  • The hopping movement of the red kangaroo is a low energy method of moving quickly. The Achilles tendon in each hind leg acts as a spring and recycles energy with every bound.
  • The red kangaroo will pant to cool down. They will also coat their chests and forearms with saliva. The blood returning to the heart cools as the moisture evaporates.
  • The red kangaroo is equipped with large claws on their hind legs and can deliver a powerful kick which is capable of crushing bones, disembowelment and death.
  • The fur of the red kangaroo can reflect heat from the sun and 30% of all incoming radiation is reflected. They will also adopt a crouching posture to expose as little of the body as possible to the sun’s rays.

Threats

Around 4 million red kangaroos are killed each year in Australia for their meat and skins which can be sold and used in the manufacture of consumer goods including shoes and pet food. They are also commonly shot, as they are seen as a pest by farmers and other land owners. Drought, bushfires and vehicle accidents are also common threats to this animal.

As with many species, habitat loss is an ever present threat to the red kangaroo with much of their habitat being destroyed to make way for residential areas, farms, mines and timber logging. Climate change can also alter the temperature and rainfall of their home and can cause a loss of grazing areas and water holes. They are also predated on by alien species (foxes, feral dogs and cats) as well as natural predators (dingo and Tasmanian Devil).

Conservation

  • IUCN Status: Least Concern

Although abundant in numbers, the red kangaroo is protected by law in Australia and occurs in many protected areas throughout its range. Hunting and commercial harvesting is controlled under nationally approved management plants which aim to maintain populations while keeping damage to agriculture to a minimum. Frequent aerial surveys are also carried out to monitor abundance and distribution.

Fun Facts

  • Male: Boomer, Jack, Buck
  • Female: Flyer, Doe, Jill
  • Young: Joey
  • Group: Mob
  • The kangaroo cannot walk backwards, which is the reason it is on the Australian flag (along with the emu).
  • Kangaroos are excellent swimmers.
  • They burn less energy the faster they hop.
  • The name ‘kangaroo’ comes from the aboriginal Australian term ‘gangurru’ which was first recorded in 1770 by British explorer, Captain James Cook.

References

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