Kangaroos have big back legs with long feet.
They move by hopping on their back legs.
They eat grass.
Some kinds of kangaroo live in hot, dry places.
Some kinds live in grasslands.

What do you call a Kangaroo?
A male kangaroo is called a buck, boomer, jack or old man. A female is a doe, flyer or jill. A young kangaroo is a joey (all marsupial young are called this). A kangaroo is often referred to as a 'roo. A group of kangaroos is generally a mob, but can be a troop or court.

Kangaroos belong to a group of marsupials called macropods, which means 'great footed animals'. Macropods have strong back legs with long feet. They hop on their back legs when travelling, using the muscular tail as a balance. Hopping in this way is an energy-efficient way of travelling long distances. Their front legs are small. When moving slowly, usually as they graze or to change position, the tail and front legs prop up the animal, and the back legs move forward.. this is called 'crawl walking'.

Kangaroos are good swimmers, and will sometimes escape a threat by going into water if it is nearby.

Kangaroos feed in the late afternoon and early morning, spending the day resting in shade. In hot weather they scrape the ground with their front paws and lie in the cooler earth they have exposed. Kangaroos do not sweat, so in the heat they lick their front paws and rub the moisture onto their chests to cool down.

The word 'kangaroo' is from the Aboriginal word (of the Guugu Yiidhirr language) 'gungurru' for the grey kangaroo. However, the English settlers soon used the word, which they pronounced kangaroo, to refer to any of the kangaroo family.

When the early explorers first saw kangaroos, they described them as creatures with heads like deer but without antlers, that could stand up tall like men but that hopped like frogs. Female kangaroos with a joey's head peeping out of the pouch confused them, as they thought they were two-headed animals!

Social Organisation
Kangaroos live in groups of ten or more called mobs. Mobs can number over 50. Living in a group means there is protection for the weaker members. There are always some of the mob looking up so danger can be spotted quickly. The kangaroo has few natural predators. The thylacine was its main predator, but is now extinct. Dingoes are a threat, as are introduced species such as foxes and feral dogs or cats.

Kangaroos feed at night on grass and other low growing plants. Kangaroos drink water when they find it, but can go for long periods of time without drinking.

Female kangaroo preparing to give birth

Life Cycle
Kangaroos weigh less than 2 grams when they are born. The tiny baby, called a joey, climbs up its mother's belly and into her pouch. The mother can't touch it because it is so tiny. She licks a path in her fur for it to travel along. Inside the pouch it grabs onto one of four teats and remains attached to it for about nine months.

Milk is automatically fed to the joey, and the milk changes according to the joey's needs as it grows until it no longer needs milk.

At nine months the joey will start to leave the pouch for increasing periods of time,returning always to the same teat for a feed until it no longer drinks milk.

A female kangaroo generally has another baby in her womb 'in suspense', which means it has developed just a little bit and then has stopped and waited. When a joey leaves the pouch, the mother starts the development of the one in her womb again, and it is born a few weeks later. Then she will have one tiny helpless joey in her pouch, drinking the kind of milk it needs to develop, and she will have another joey that is out of the pouch but which returns to feed on milk from another teat in her pouch. That milk will be different from what the tiny joey is drinking, because the older joey needs milk that will help it get strong as it hops around.

An older joey returning for a feed

If conditions are bad, such as times of drought when there is not much food around, the female kangaroo may wait until things improve before letting the second baby develop. This means that there are few kangaroos born during a drought and ensures that there is food for the existing kangaroos. The babies are born when the mothers are feeding well and producing good milk, and so that when the young start to feed on solid food, there is plenty for them too.

Kangaroos in times of drought.
In a drought, large mobs move into farmlands and parks, even golf courses to find food. This often puts them into conflict with humans, who decide they are pests and sometimes results in them being 'culled', which means many are killed to reduce the numbers.

Different kinds of kangaroos
The red kangaroo is the biggest of all the marsupials. A male can be 1.5 metres long with a 1 metre long tail. It can weigh 85 kilograms. Females are smaller. Males are a reddish colour, but the females are a grey colour. Red kangaroos are found mostly in the centre of Australia, where it is hot and there is little rainfall. It is flat, open country with scattered trees.

The grey kangaroo is found along most of the eastern half of Australia. Grey kangaroos are almost as big as red kangaroos, but are a greyish brown colour. There are Eastern Grey and Western Grey kangaroos.

Another kind of kangaroo...
Tree Kangaroos
In tropical areas of Australia and Papua New Guinea there are kangaroos that live in trees. They are tree kangaroos. There are different kinds of tree kangaroo.

Their tails help them balance as they hop about from branch to branch. The tails are floppy rather than stiff, and hang down. They are the only kangaroos that have front paws that can be raised above their heads, which helps them move about in trees. Their front paws are more flexible than those of ground-living kangaroos, and they can hold food to their mouths with them.
Goodfellow's Tree kangaroo

Click here to find out more about some kinds of tree kangaroo:
Lumholtz's tree kangaroo:
Matschie's tree kangaroo:


Goodfellow's tree kangaroo:

Here's a rhyme about a kangaroo

Old Jumpety-Bumpety-Hop-and -Go-One
Was lying asleep on his side in the sun.
This old kangaroo, he was whisking the flies
(With his long glossy tail) from his ears and his eyes.
Jumpety-Bumpety-Hop-and -Go-One
Was lying asleep on his side in the sun.

If you use any part of this in your own work, acknowledge this source in your bibliography like this:
Sydenham, S. & Thomas, R. Kangaroos [Online] www.kidcyber.com.au (2005)

Updated March 2009 ©kidcyber

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