kangaroo n : any of several herbivorous leaping marsupials of Australia and New Guinea having large powerful hind legs and a long thick tail
EtymologyFrom gangurru, recorded by James Cook and others in 1770 at Endeavour River; in English, applied to the whole family of macropods, apparently from not realizing the Guugu Yimidhirr word referred to just one species.
In 1820 Phillip King visited the area and could not confirm Cook’s record; some then suggested that Cook and Banks had erred. This is apparently the basis for the long-standing myth that Cook is supposed to have asked a native “What is that?” to which the reply “kangaroo”, supposedly meaning “I don’t know”, was given. Though amusing, this is not the case. John Haviland studied Guugu Yimidhirr extensively in 1972, confirming gangurru and concluding King had been told minha.1
- /ˌkæŋgəˈru/, /%k
A kangaroo is a marsupial from the family Macropodidae (macropods, meaning 'large foot'). In common use the term is used to describe the largest species from this family, the Red Kangaroo, the Antilopine Kangaroo, and the Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroo of the Macropus genus. The family also includes many smaller species which include the wallabies, tree-kangaroos, wallaroos, pademelons and the Quokka, some 63 living species in all.
The kangaroo is an Australian icon: it is featured on the Australian coat of arms, on some of its currency, and is used by many Australian organisations, including Qantas.
TerminologyThe word kangaroo derives from the Guugu Yimidhirr word gangurru, referring to a grey kangaroo. The name was first recorded as "Kangooroo or Kanguru" on 4 August 1770, by Lieutenant (later Captain) James Cook on the banks of the Endeavour River at the site of modern Cooktown, when HM Bark Endeavour was beached for almost seven weeks to repair damage sustained on the Great Barrier Reef.
A common myth about the kangaroo's English name is that it came from the Aboriginal words for "I don't understand you." According to this legend, Captain James Cook and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks were exploring Australia when they happened upon the animal. They asked a nearby local what the creatures were called. The local responded "Kangaroo", meaning "I don't understand you", which Cook took to be the name of the creature. This myth was debunked in the 1970s by linguist John B. Haviland.
Male kangaroos are called bucks, boomers, jacks, or old men; females are does, flyers, or jills, and the young ones are joeys. The collective noun for kangaroos is a mob, troop, or court. Kangaroos are often colloquially referred to as roos.
OverviewThere are four species that are commonly referred to as kangaroos:
- The Red Kangaroo (Macropus rufus) is the largest surviving marsupial anywhere in the world. Fewer in numbers, the Red Kangaroo occupies the arid and semi-arid centre of the continent. A large male can be 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) tall and weigh 90 kg (200 lb).
- The Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus) is less well-known than the red (outside of Australia), but the most often seen, as its range covers the fertile eastern part of the continent.
- The Western Grey Kangaroo (Macropus fuliginosus) is slightly smaller again at about 54 kg (119 lb) for a large male. It is found in the southern part of Western Australia, South Australia near the coast, and the Darling River basin.
- The Antilopine Kangaroo (Macropus antilopinus) is, essentially, the far-northern equivalent of the Eastern and Western Grey Kangaroos. Like them, it is a creature of the grassy plains and woodlands, and gregarious.
In addition, there are about 50 smaller macropods closely related to the kangaroo in the family Macropodidae.
DescriptionEuropeans have long regarded kangaroos as strange animals. Early explorers described them as creatures that had heads like deer (without antlers), stood upright like men, and hopped like frogs. Combined with the two-headed appearance of a mother kangaroo, this led many back home to dismiss them as travellers' tales for quite some time. The first kangaroo to be exhibited in the western world was an example shot by John Gore, an officer on Captain Cook's Endeavour in 1770. The animal was shot and its skin and skull transported back to England whereupon it was stuffed (by taxidermists who had never seen the animal before) and displayed to the general public as a curiosity.
Kangaroos have large, powerful hind legs, large feet adapted for leaping, a long muscular tail for balance, and a small head. Like all marsupials, female kangaroos have a pouch called a marsupium in which joeys complete postnatal development.
Kangaroos are the only large animals to use hopping as a means of locomotion. The comfortable hopping speed for Red Kangaroo is about 20–25 km/h (13–16 mph), but speeds of up to 70 km/h (44 mph) can be attained, over short distances, while it can sustain a speed of 40 km/h (25 mph) for nearly two kilometres. This fast and energy-efficient method of travel has evolved because of the need to regularly cover large distances in search of food and water, rather than the need to escape predators.
Because of its long feet, it cannot walk correctly. To move at slow speeds, it uses its tail to form a tripod with its two forelimbs. It then raises its hind feet forward, in a form of locomotion called "crawl-walking."
DietDifferent species of kangaroos eat different diets. Eastern grey kangaroos are predominantly grazers eating a wide variety of grasses whereas some other species (e.g. red kangaroos and swamp wallabies) include significant amounts of shrubs in the diet. The smaller species of kangaroos also consume hypogeal fungi. Many species are nocturnal and crepuscular, usually spending the days resting in shade and the cool evenings, nights and mornings moving about and feeding.
Because of its grazing, kangaroos have developed specialized teeth. Its incisors are able to crop grass close to the ground, and its molars chop and grind the grass. Since the two sides of the lower jaw are not joined together, the lower incisors are farther apart, giving the kangaroo a wider bite. The silica in grass is abrasive, so kangaroo molars move forward as they are ground down, and eventually fall out, replaced by new teeth that grow in the back.
PredatorsKangaroos have few natural predators. The Thylacine, considered by palaeontologists to have once been a major natural predator of the kangaroo, is now extinct. Other extinct predators included the Marsupial Lion, Megalania and the Wonambi. However, with the arrival of humans in Australia at least 50,000 years ago and the introduction of the dingo about 5,000 years ago, kangaroos have had to adapt. The mere barking of a dog can set a full-grown male boomer into a wild frenzy. Wedge-tailed Eagles and other raptors usually eat kangaroo carrion. Goannas and other carnivorous reptiles also pose a danger to smaller kangaroo species when other food sources are lacking.
Along with dingos and other canids, introduced species like foxes and feral cats also pose a threat to kangaroo populations. Kangaroos and wallabies are adept swimmers, and often flee into waterways if presented with the option. If pursued into the water, a large kangaroo may use its forepaws to hold the predator underwater so as to drown it. Another defensive tactic described by witnesses is catching the attacking dog with the forepaws and disembowelling it with the hind legs.
AdaptationsKangaroos have developed a number of adaptations to a dry, infertile continent and highly variable climate. As with all marsupials, the young are born at a very early stage of development – after a gestation of 31–36 days. At this stage, only the forelimbs are somewhat developed, to allow the newborn to climb to the pouch and attach to a teat. In comparison, a human embryo at a similar stage of development would be about seven weeks old, and premature babies born at less than 23 weeks are usually not mature enough to survive. When the joey is born, it is about the size of a lima bean. The joey will usually stay in the pouch for about nine months (180–320 days for the Western Grey) before starting to leave the pouch for small periods of time. It is usually fed by its mother until reaching 18 months.
The female kangaroo is usually pregnant in permanence, 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, the mother is able to produce two different kinds of milk simultaneously for the newborn and the older joey still in the pouch.
Unusually, during a dry period, males will not produce sperm, and females will only conceive if there has been enough rain to produce a large quantity of green vegetation.
A collision with a vehicle is capable of killing a kangaroo. Kangaroos dazzled by headlights or startled by engine noise have been known to leap in front of cars. Since kangaroos in mid-bound can reach speeds of around 50 km/h (31 mph) and are relatively heavy, the force of impact can be severe. Small vehicles may be destroyed, while larger vehicles may suffer engine damage. 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.
Vehicles that frequent isolated roads, where roadside assistance may be scarce, are often fitted with "roo bars" to minimise damage caused by collision. Bonnet-mounted devices, designed to scare wildlife off the road with ultrasound and other methods, have been devised and marketed.
If a female is the victim of a collision, animal welfare groups ask that her pouch be checked for any surviving joey, in which case it may be removed to a wildlife sanctuary or veterinary surgeon for rehabilitation. Likewise, when an adult kangaroo is injured in a collision, a vet, the RSPCA or the National Parks and Wildlife Service can be consulted for instructions on proper care. In New South Wales, rehabilitation of kangaroos is carried out by volunteers from WIRES.
Hand-raisingOccasionally, individuals take on the task of rearing a recovered joey themselves. The rule-of-thumb says that if the joey is already covered with fur at the time of the accident (as opposed to still being in its embryonic stage), it stands a good chance of growing up properly. Lactose-free milk is required, otherwise the animal may develop blindness. They hop readily into a cloth bag when it is lowered in front of them approximately to the height where the mother's pouch would be. The joey's instinct is to "cuddle up", thereby endearing themselves to their keepers, but after hand-rearing a joey, it cannot usually be released into the wild and be expected to provide for itself immediately. Usually wildlife sanctuaries are willing to adopt kangaroos which are no longer practical, or have grown too large to contain, needing at least 1 acre and 7ft boundary fences for a fully grown kangaroo.
Kangaroo emblems and popular cultureKangaroos have been featured on coins, as well as being used as emblems and logos. They have also been used as mascots and in the naming of sports teams and are extremely well-represented in films, television, toys and souvenirs around the world.
- Dawson, Terence J. 1995. Kangaroos: Biology of the Largest Marsupials. Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York. Second printing: 1998. ISBN 0-8014-8262-3.
- Flannery, Timothy Fridtjof, et al. 1996. Tree Kangaroos: A Curious Natural History. Reed Books, Melbourne. ISBN 0-7301-0492-3
- Underhill D. 1993. Australia's Dangerous Creatures, Reader's Digest, Sydney, New South Wales, ISBN 0-86438-018-6
- Weldon, Kevin. 1985. The Kangaroo. Weldons Pty. Ltd., Sydney. ISBN 0-949708-22-4
kangaroo in Arabic: كنغر
kangaroo in Indonesian: Kanguru
kangaroo in Malay (macrolanguage): Kanggaru
kangaroo in Bengali: ক্যাংগারু
kangaroo in Bulgarian: Кенгурови
kangaroo in Bosnian: Kengur
kangaroo in Catalan: Cangur
kangaroo in Czech: Klokanovití
kangaroo in Danish: Kænguru
kangaroo in German: Kängurus
kangaroo in Modern Greek (1453-): Καγκουρό
kangaroo in Spanish: Canguro
kangaroo in Esperanto: Kanguruo
kangaroo in Persian: کانگورو
kangaroo in French: Kangourou
kangaroo in Hakka Chinese: Thoi-chhú
kangaroo in Korean: 캥거루
kangaroo in Hindi: कंगारू
kangaroo in Croatian: Klokani
kangaroo in Ido: Kanguruo
kangaroo in Italian: Canguro
kangaroo in Hebrew: קנגורו
kangaroo in Latin: Macropus
kangaroo in Luxembourgish: Känguruen
kangaroo in Lojban: kanguru
kangaroo in Malayalam: കംഗാരു
kangaroo in Dutch: Kangoeroes
kangaroo in Japanese: カンガルー
kangaroo in Norwegian: Kenguruer
kangaroo in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kenguru
kangaroo in Occitan (post 1500): Cangoró
kangaroo in Polish: Kangurowate
kangaroo in Portuguese: Canguru
kangaroo in Romanian: Cangur
kangaroo in Russian: Кенгуру
kangaroo in Albanian: Kanguri
kangaroo in Sicilian: Cangurù
kangaroo in Simple English: Kangaroo
kangaroo in Slovak: Kengurovité
kangaroo in Slovenian: Kenguru
kangaroo in Serbian: Кенгур
kangaroo in Finnish: Kengurut
kangaroo in Swedish: Kängurudjur
kangaroo in Tamil: கங்காரு
kangaroo in Thai: จิงโจ้
kangaroo in Vietnamese: Kangaroo
kangaroo in Turkish: Kanguru
kangaroo in Ukrainian: Кенгуру
kangaroo in Uighur: كانگىرو
kangaroo in Yiddish: קענגערו
kangaroo in Chinese: 袋鼠
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