kangaroo

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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kangaroo

kangaroo, name for a variety of hopping marsupials, or pouched mammals, of the family Macropodidae, found in Australia, Tasmania, and New Guinea. The term is applied especially to the large kangaroos of the genus Macropus. Kangaroos have powerful hind legs designed for leaping, long feet, short forelimbs, and long muscular tails. The hind legs are also used to deliver blows at enemies when the animal is cornered; the feet are sharply clawed. The tail serves as a balance when the animal leaps and as a prop when it stands; the usual posture is bipedal. The handlike forepaws are used for grasping. As in most marsupials, females have a pouch surrounding the teats. The single young is born in an immature state after a gestation period of about 40 days and is suckled in the mother's pouch for about six months. After it begins to graze it returns frequently to the pouch for shelter and transport until it is too large to be carried. Kangaroos feed on grass and other vegetation; they are the chief grazers of the Australian plains. Day-active animals, they move about in herds called mobs and sleep on the ground at night. Males are called boomers, females flyers; the young are called joeys. Because many types of kangaroo have valuable hides, and because they compete with domestic livestock for grazing land, kangaroos have been extensively hunted and are now extremely reduced in numbers.

Types of Kangaroos

The largest kangaroo, and largest of all marsupials, is the great red kangaroo, M. rufus, which inhabits the inland plains of Australia. Males of this species may be over 7 ft (210 cm) tall and weigh over 200 lbs (90 kg). They are bright maroon in color, with white faces and underparts. Females, called blue flyers, are blue-gray; smaller and faster than the males, they may achieve speeds of 30 mi (48 km) per hr. The great gray kangaroo, M. canguru, is almost as large; it is found in open forest areas of E and W Australia and in Tasmania. A related kangaroo, M. robustus, is known as the wallaroo and inhabits rocky hills throughout most of the continent.

Smaller, but quite similar in appearance and behavior, are members of the kangaroo family called wallabies and pademelons, of which there are many species, classified in several genera. Some of these are plains dwellers, others live among rocks or in scrub country; most are about the size of a rabbit. Of similar size are the tree and rat kangaroos. Tree kangaroos, species of the genus Dendrolagus, are the only arboreal members of the family. Found in the rain forests of New Guinea and N Australia, they climb well and can leap from branch to branch. Rat kangaroos are omnivorous animals of ratlike appearance. They feed largely on roots and fungi; members of many species live in burrows. They are classified in several genera and are distributed throughout the Australian region.

Classification

They are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Marsupialia, family Macropodidae.

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