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Red kangaroo

red kangaroo, red kangaroo paw
The red kangaroo Macropus rufus is the largest of all kangaroos, the largest terrestrial mammal native to Australia, and the largest extant marsupial It is found across mainland Australia, avoiding only the more fertile areas in the south, the east coast, and the northern rainforests


  • 1 Description
  • 2 Ecology and habitat
  • 3 Behaviour
    • 31 Reproduction
  • 4 Relationship with humans
    • 41 Commercial use
  • 5 See also
  • 6 References


The skull at the Museum Wiesbaden, Hessen Female red kangaroo at Botanic Garden Zoo in Wagga Wagga, Australia

This species is a very large kangaroo with long, pointed ears and a squared-off muzzle They are sexually dimorphic as the males have short, red-brown fur, fading to pale buff below and on the limbs Females are smaller than males and are blue-grey with a brown tinge, pale grey below, although arid zone females are coloured more like males It has two forelimbs with small claws, two muscular hind-limbs, which are used for jumping, and a strong tail which is often used to create a tripod when standing upright The red kangaroo's legs work much like a rubber band, with the Achilles tendon stretching as the animal comes down, then releasing its energy to propel the animal up and forward, enabling the characteristic bouncing locomotion The males can cover 8–9 m 262–295 ft in one leap while reaching heights of 18–3 m 59–98 ft, though the average is 12–19 m 39–62 ft[4][5]

Males grow up to a head-and-body length of 13–16 m 43–52 ft with a tail that adds a further 12 to the total length Females are considerably smaller, with a head-and-body length of 85–105 cm 33–41 in and tail length of 65–85 cm 26–33 in[5][6] Females can weigh from 18 to 40 kg 40 to 88 lb, while males typically weigh about twice as much at 55 to 90 kg 121 to 198 lb[6][7] The average red kangaroo stands approximately 15 m 49 ft tall to the top of the head in upright posture[8] Large mature males can stand more than 18 m 59 ft tall, with the largest confirmed one having been around 21 m 69 ft tall and weighed 91 kg 201 lb[7]

The red kangaroo maintains its internal temperature at a point of homeostasis about 36 °C 97 °F using a variety of physical, physiological, and behavioural adaptations These include having an insulating layer of fur, being less active and staying in the shade when temperatures are high, panting, sweating, and licking its forelimbs

The red kangaroo's range of vision is approximately 300° 324° with about 25° overlap, due to the position of its eyes[9]

Ecology and habitat

Red kangaroo in an arid environment Red kangaroo at Desert Park, Alice Springs

The red kangaroo ranges throughout western and central Australia Its range encompasses scrubland, grassland, and desert habitats It typically inhabits open habitats with some trees for shade[10] Red kangaroos are capable of conserving enough water and selecting enough fresh vegetation to survive in an arid environment The kangaroo’s kidneys efficiently concentrate urine, particularly during summer[11] Red kangaroo primarily eat green vegetation, particularly fresh grasses and forbs, and can get enough even when most plants look brown and dry[12] One study of kangaroos in Central Australia found that green grass makes up 75–95% of the diet, with Eragrostis setifolia dominating at 54% This grass continues to be green into the dry season[13] Kangaroos also primarily consumed this species, along with Enneapogon avanaceus, in western New South Wales where they comprised much as 21–69% of its diet according to a study[14] During dry times, kangaroos search for green plants by staying on open grassland and near watercourses[12] While grasses and forbs are preferred, red kangaroos will also eat certain species of chenopods, like Bassia diacantha and Maireana pyramidata, and will even browse shrubs when its favoured foods are scarce[12] However, some perennial chenopods, such as round-leaf chenopod Kochia are avoided even when abundant[15]

At times, red kangaroos congregate in large numbers; in areas with much forage, these groups can number as much as 1,500 individuals Red kangaroos are mostly crepuscular and nocturnal, resting in the shade during the day[16] However, they sometimes move about during the day Red kangaroos rely on small saltbushes or mulga bushes for shelter in extreme heat rather than rocky outcrops or caves[12] Grazing takes up most of their daily activities Like most kangaroo species, they are mostly sedentary, staying within a relatively well-defined home range However, great environmental changes can cause them to travel great distances[12] Kangaroos in New South Wales have weekly home ranges of 258–560 ha, with the larger areas belonging to adult males[17] When forage is poor and rainfall patchy, kangaroos will travel 25–30 km to more favourable feeding grounds[14] Another study of kangaroos in central Australia found that most of them stay close to remaining vegetation but disperse to find fresh plants after it rains[18] The red kangaroo is too big to be subject to significant non-human predation They can use their robust legs and clawed feet to defend themselves from attackers with kicks and blows However, dingoes and eagles will kill and eat joeys Joeys are thus protected in their mother's pouch The red kangaroo formerly did have major predators that are now extinct Extinct predators included the marsupial lion, Megalania, and the wonambi 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[19]


Mob of red kangaroos at the Wagga Wagga Botanic Gardens

Red kangaroos live in groups of 2–4 members The most common groups are females and their young[12] Larger groups can be found in densely populated areas and females are usually with a male[20] Membership of these groups is very flexible, and males boomers are not territorial, fighting only over females flyers that come into heat Males develop proportionately much larger shoulders and arms than females[21] Most agonistic interactions occur between young males, which engage in ritualised fighting known as boxing They usually stand up on their hind limbs and attempt to push their opponent off balance by jabbing him or locking forearms If the fight escalates, they will begin to kick each other Using their tail to support their weight, they deliver kicks with their powerful hind legs Compared to other kangaroo species, fights between red kangaroo males tend to involve more wrestling[22] Fights establish dominance relationships among males, and determine who gets access to estrous females[12] Alpha males make agonistic behaviours and more sexual behaviours until they are overthrown Displaced males live alone and avoid close contact with others[12]

Fighting red kangaroos


See also: Kangaroo § Reproduction and life cycle

The red kangaroo breeds all year round The females have the unusual ability to delay birth of their baby until their previous Joey has left the pouch This is called embryonic diapause Copulation may last 25 minutes[22] The red kangaroo has the typical reproductive system of a kangaroo The neonate emerges after only 33 days Usually only one young is born at a time It is blind, hairless, and only a few centimetres long Its hind legs are mere stumps; it instead uses its more developed forelegs to climb its way through the thick fur on its mother's abdomen into the pouch, which takes about three to five minutes Once in the pouch, it fastens onto one of the two teats and starts to feed Almost immediately, the mother's sexual cycle starts again Another egg descends into the uterus and she becomes sexually receptive Then, if she mates and a second egg is fertilised, its development is temporarily halted Meanwhile, the neonate in the pouch grows rapidly After approximately 190 days, the baby called a joey is sufficiently large and developed to make its full emergence out of the pouch, after sticking its head out for a few weeks until it eventually feels safe enough to fully emerge From then on, it spends increasing time in the outside world and eventually, after around 235 days, it leaves the pouch for the last time[23] While the young joey will permanently leave the pouch at around 235 days old, it will continue to suckle until it reaches about 12 months of age A doe may first reproduce as early as 18 months of age and as late as five years during drought, but normally she is two and a half years old before she begins to breed[24]

The female kangaroo is usually permanently pregnant, except on the day she gives birth; however, she has the ability to freeze the development of an embryo until the previous joey is able to leave the pouch This is known as diapause, and will occur in times of drought and in areas with poor food sources The composition of the milk produced by the mother varies according to the needs of the joey In addition, red kangaroo mothers may "have up to three generations of offspring simultaneously; a young-at-foot suckling from an elongated teat, a young in the pouch attached to a second teat and a blastula in arrested development in the uterus"[22]

The kangaroo has also been observed to engage in alloparental care, a behaviour in which a female may adopt another female's joey This is a common parenting behaviour seen in many other animal species like wolves, elephants and fathead minnows[25]

Relationship with humans

A red kangaroo crossing a highway

The red kangaroo is an abundant species and has even benefited from the spread of agriculture and creation of man-made waterholes However competition with livestock and rabbits poses a threat It is also sometimes shot by farmers as a pest although a "destruction permit" is required from the relevant state government

Kangaroos dazzled by headlights or startled by engine noise often leap in front of vehicles, severely damaging or destroying smaller or unprotected vehicles 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

Peak times for kangaroo/vehicle crashes are between 5 and 10 pm in the evening, in winter, and after extended dry-weather spells[26]

Commercial use

Like all Australian wildlife, the red kangaroo is protected by legislation, but it is so numerous that there is regulated harvest of its hide and meat Hunting permits and commercial harvesting are controlled under nationally approved management plans, which aim to maintain red kangaroo populations and manage them as a renewable resource Harvesting of kangaroos is controversial, particularly due to the animal's popularity[24]

In the year 2000, 1,173,242 animals were killed[27] In 2009 the government put a limit of 1,611,216 for the number of red kangaroos available for commercial use The kangaroo industry is worth about A$270 million each year, and employs over 4000 people[28] The kangaroos provide meat for both humans and pet food Kangaroo meat is very lean with only about 2% fat Their skins are used for leather

See also

  • Roo bar


  1. ^ Groves, C P 2005 "Macropus Osphranter rufus" In Wilson, DE; Reeder, D M Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference 3rd ed Johns Hopkins University Press p 66 ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0 OCLC 62265494 
  2. ^ Ellis, M, van Weenen, J, Copley, P, Dickman, C, Mawson, P & Woinarski, J 2016 Macropus rufus The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species doi:102305/IUCNUK2016-2RLTST40567A21953534en
  3. ^ Desmarest, A G 1822 "Kanguroo roux, kangurus rufus" Mammalogie, ou, Description des espèces de mammifères 2 Paris: Agasse pp 541–542 
  4. ^ "Red Kangaroo – Zoos Victoria" wwwzooorgau Archived from the original on 2008-07-14 Retrieved 2009-04-16 
  5. ^ a b Yue, M 2001 Macropus rufus Animaldiversityummzumichedu Retrieved on 2015-09-25
  6. ^ a b Red kangaroo videos, photos and facts – Macropus rufus ARKive Retrieved on 2015-09-25
  7. ^ a b Wood, Gerald 1983 The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9 
  8. ^ Menkhorst, P and Knight, F 2001 A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne ISBN 0-19-555037-4
  9. ^ "Red Kangaroo Fact Sheet" librarysandiegozooorg Retrieved 2015-10-04 
  10. ^ Dawson, TJ 1995 Kangaroos: Biology of the Largest Marsupials UNSW Press, Sydney ISBN 0-8014-8262-3
  11. ^ Dawson, T J & Denny, MJS 1969 "A bioclimatological comparison of the summer day microenvironments of two species of arid zone kangaroo" Ecology 50 2: 328–332 doi:102307/1934861 JSTOR 1934861 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Tyndale-Biscoe, C Hugh 2005 Life of marsupials Csiro Publishing pp 321–324 ISBN 978-0-643-06257-3 Retrieved 6 December 2011 
  13. ^ Newsome, AE 1975 "An ecological comparison of the two arid-zone kangaroos of Australia, and their anomalous prosperity since the introduction of ruminant stock to their environment" Quarterly Review of Biology 50 4: 389–424 doi:101086/408742 PMID 1221459 
  14. ^ a b Caughley, Graeme; Shepherd, Neil; Short, Jeff 2009 Kangaroos: Their Ecology and Management in the Sheep Rangelands of Australia Cambridge University Press ISBN 978-0-521-12340-2 
  15. ^ Ellis, BA 1977 "Seasonal changes in diet preferences of free-ranging red kangaroos, euros and sheep in western New South Wales" Australian Wildlife Research 4 2: 127–144 doi:101071/WR9770127 
  16. ^ Cronin, Leonard 2008 Cronin's Key Guide to Australian Mammals Allen & Unwin ISBN 978-1-74175-110-9 
  17. ^ Croft, D B 1991 "Home range of the red kangaroo Macropus rufus" Journal of Arid Environments 20: 83–98 
  18. ^ Newsome, A E 1965 "The distribution of red kangaroos Megaleia rufa Desmarest, about sources of persistent food and water in central Australia" PDF Australian Journal of Zoology 13 2: 289–300 doi:101071/ZO9650289 
  19. ^ Canadian Museum of Nature – Kangaroo Retrieved 6 January 2007
  20. ^ Johnson, C N 1983 "Variations in Group Size and Composition in Red and Western Grey Kangaroos, Macropus rufus Desmarest and M fulignosus Desmarest" Australian Wildlife Research 10: 25–31 doi:101071/WR9830025 
  21. ^ Jarman, P 1983 "Mating system and sexual dimorphism in large, terrestrial, mammalian herbivores" Biological Reviews 58 4: 485–520 doi:101111/j1469-185X1983tb00398x 
  22. ^ a b c McCullough, Dale R and McCullough, Yvette 2000 Kangaroos in Outback Australia, Columbia University Press ISBN 0-231-11916-X
  23. ^ Evolution of Biodiversity, BCB705 Biodiversity, University of the Western Cape
  24. ^ a b Serventy, Vincent 1985 Wildlife of Australia South Melbourne: Sun Books pp 38–39 ISBN 0-7251-0480-5 
  25. ^ Riedman, Marianne L 1982 "The Evolution of Alloparental Care in Mammals and Birds" The Quarterly Review of Biology 57 4: 405–435 doi:101086/412936 JSTOR 2826887 
  26. ^ "Kangaroos and Vehicles" ACT Government, Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate - Environment Retrieved 13 May 2018 
  27. ^ "National commercial Kangaroo harvest quotas" wwwenvironmentgovau Archived from the original on 6 June 2011 Retrieved 2009-04-16 
  28. ^ "Kangaroo Industry Assocn of Australia – Background Info" wwwkangaroo-industryasnau Archived from the original on 31 October 2003 Retrieved 16 April 2009 

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