Last updated on April 16, 2014 at 13:34 EDT

Red Kangaroo, Macropus rufus

The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) is a species within the Macropodidae family that can be found in Australia. Its range extends through central and western Australia, but it tends to avoid eastern, southern, and northern areas of Australia. It prefers a habitat within grasslands, scrublands, and deserts with a fair amount of tree vegetation, which is used for shade.

The red kangaroo is the largest marsupial and the largest mammal in Australia. Males are typically larger than females, reaching an average body length between 4.3 and 5.2 feet, with a tail length of up to 3.9 feet and a weight between 120 and 190 pounds. Females reach an average body length between 2.7 and 3.4 feet, with a tail length of up to 2.7 inches and a weight between 40 to 88 pounds. The average height for an adult red kangaroo is 4.9 feet, but older males have been recorded with a height of 5.9 feet.  Weights of 200 and 330 pounds have been recorded in older males as well. Male red kangaroos have short reddish fur that fades to pale greyish-brown on the legs, while females appear to be bluish grey in color, with the same lighter coloring on the legs. The tail of this species is often used to help the kangaroo balances when standing.

This red kangaroo is able to retain a cool temperature, even in areas with little water, by using a number of specialized behaviors that include sweating, resting in the shade, and panting. This species will eat many types of vegetation including forbs and grasses, and it is able to consume optimum amounts of hydration from these plants, even if they do not appear to be fresh and green. If these preferred types of plants are not available, it will consume certain types of chenopods, including Maireana pyramidata and Bassia diacantha, although it will avoid consuming round-leaf chenopod Kochia even if it is the most abundant plant in the area. When food is abundant, this species may gather in large groups of up to 1,500.

The red kangaroo is typically active during the dusk, dawn, and twilight hours and will rest in the shade of trees during the hotter hours of the day. This species will typically remain in one home range for its entire life, which varies in size depending upon its location, but it may leave to find a more suitable area if habitat damage becomes too great. It is not threatened by overhunting from humans, but eagles and dingoes will hunt young joeys. For this reason, the joeys will remain in their mother’s pouch for protection, and both males and females will use their powerful feet and sharp claws to defend themselves against a foe. It is common for this species to flee into the water if it feels threatened enough, where it may hold down its foe with its paws and drown it while swimming.

The red kangaroo is most often seen in small groups between two and four individuals, typically consisting of a mother and her young. Within larger groups, females can be seen with their young and one male. There is not a strict hierarchy within these groups, and males will only fight over females that are ready to breed. Males are better equipped to fight, with longer and stronger forelimbs, which they will use to fight in a manner known as boxing. When boxing, males will stand up on their hind limbs, using their forelimbs to attempt to knock their opponent over.  If this does not work, the males will use their tail to balance while kicking their opponent with their hind limbs. This species is relatively docile when fighting compared to other species of kangaroo, preferring to wrestle with its forelimbs more than kicking. Younger males will fight more often than older males, and the strongest will win the breeding rights to females.

The red kangaroo is able to breed throughout the year. After breeding, females will give birth to one joey within her pouch after thirty-three days, where it will remain for up to 190 days. After this period, the joey has grown large enough to live outside of the pouch, although it may take a few weeks for it to emerge completely. It will spend time outside and inside of the pouch until around 235 days, but will not be weaned until twelve months of age. Females typically reach sexual maturity at two and half years of age, although some may breed at eighteen months of age. Female red kangaroos are typically pregnant for most of their adult life, and they are able to delay pregnancy until one joey has left the pouch or if food or water is scarce. Females can change the nutrition content of their milk to support two generations of young while delaying the pregnancy of a third joey.

The red kangaroo is widespread throughout its range and is protected by law, along with all species of Australian wildlife. It has benefited slightly from man-made wells and certain agricultural growth, but some farmers consider it a pest and may seek the proper documentation to eradicate individuals on their land. Kangaroo species are prone to being hit by motor vehicles, because they become stunned if blinded by headlights. This is dangerous to both kangaroos and humans, so it is common to see kangaroo crossing signs throughout Australia.

Because the population numbers of the red kangaroo are so high, it is common for hunters to kill the species for its meat and fur. However, hunting is regulated and hunters must acquire a permit. Despite these regulations, which serve to control the population numbers and maintain a renewable resource, some consider hunting of this species to be controversial, because it is so popular. In 2000, 1,173,242 red kangaroos were killed, but in 2009, the Australian government initiated a kill limit of 1,611,216 kangaroos. The kangaroo industry supports four thousand people, bringing in about A$ 270 million every year. The red kangaroo appears on the IUCN Red List with a conservation status of “least Concern.”

Image Caption: Red Kangaroo. Credit: Drs/Wikipedia

Red Kangaroo Macropus rufus