Kangaroos just capture the imagination, don’t they? Even after weeks of driving through Australia we never tired of seeing them bouncing along, being all fascinating and kangarooey.
I may have become a little obsessed with kangaroos while we were in Australia, to the point where the first thing I did when our friend Caroline visited was have her watch a National Geographic documentary on them. If you’re already a kangaroo enthusiast (or if you’re from Australia), these facts might not come as a surprise, but the rest of us could stand to know more about these marvelous marsupials.
1. They’re Australia’s Grazing Animal
Similar to how we have deer or elk roaming about, Australia’s grazing animal is the kangaroo. Rain runoff makes foliage grow on the side of the road, which attracts the animals – especially during spells of dry weather. Therefore they often wander onto roadways where thousands are hit by passing motorists each year.
It didn’t take long after we left Sydney to find kangaroos right off the highway, but unfortunately we found several dead roos before seeing a live one. In order to avoid hitting one on your Australian road trip, try not to drive during “kangaroo hours” – the peak time for crashes is between 5 and 10 pm.
2. Female Kangaroos have Three Vaginas
Well, actually, all female marsupials do. The three-vagina system employs only one common connection to the outside which is used to mate, give birth, and evacuate. When a Jill mates with a Jack the sperm travels up one of the two “side vaginas” (via a two-pronged penis, btw), and Joey is borne out of the center.
3. Joeys are Born the Size of a Lima Bean
Why have kangaroos evolved this way, you might ask? Essentially, this unique reproductive setup allows female kangaroos to be perpetually pregnant in an environment that can be hostile and unpredictable. A joey weighs about 2 grams at birth and has to climb, hairless and blind, up through the mother’s fur and into the pouch. Once this happens another embryo (that’s been held in limbo in a uterus) can start developing.
A Jill can therefore have three joeys at once – one in suspended animation, one developing in the pouch, and one that has left the pouch but is still under her care. Another fun fact: Female kangaroos produce two types of milk – one for the older joey, and one for the lima bean sibling.
4. Wallabies are Kangaroos, but Not the Other Way Around
There are over sixty species of kangaroo, all belonging to the macropod (“great-footed”) family. All of them are endemic to Australia and Papua New Guinea. Most of these photos show Eastern Grey Kangaroos, which are found in southern and eastern Australia.
5. There Used to Be Giant Kangaroos
The Procoptodon were giant kangaroos that grew up to seven feet tall and weighed five hundred pounds. There is evidence they lived as recently as 18,000 years ago.
6. Australians Eat Kangaroos
Kangaroo meat was always a protein source for indigenous Australians, and today around 15% of Aussies eat it regularly. The meat section of any Australian supermarket will have a good selection of kangaroo products on offer – burger patties, steaks, kebabs, and so on. We didn’t eat kangaroo while we were there, but have read it’s a tender low-fat alternative to beef. Interestingly, the Australian government only approved kangaroo meat for widespread human consumption in 1993.
7. The Faster They Go, the More Efficient They Are
While hopping along at the same speed as an elite human marathon runner, a Red Kangaroo uses half the amount of energy. Each of its hops can span 18 feet. This is because elastic tendons in their massive feet and legs work as bands that both spring them forward and store energy for the next bound. They can reach speeds of 40 miles an hour.
8. Kangaroos Kick When They Feel Threatened
In a boxing match between two males, it is normally the losing one who kicks first. It’s used as a defense mechanism so that the dominant male can’t land as many punches. So if you’re kicked by a kangaroo on vacation, it’s probably because you got too close and intimidated him.
9. Kangaroos Never Stop Growing
Although the rate of growth slows considerably after a kangaroo reaches maturity, it will continue growing for its entire life. So if you meet an old guy like this (I call him Beefcakes), chances are he’s pretty old.