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Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary 037
Image by Michael Dawes
The Kangaroo Family
Kangaroos, and their close relatives, vary greatly in size, ranging in weight from 500 grams to 90 kilograms. There are at least 69 different types (called species) of kangaroo. These species are found naturally in the wild only in Australia and New Guinea, although feral populations of some species have been introduced in New Zealand, Great Britain and Hawaii.
Recently, scientists have separated these species into two families (the Macropodidae and the Potoroidae) which together form a super-family known as the Macropodoidea (or macropods). The family Macropodidae includes kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, pademelons, tree-kangaroos and the forest wallabies of New Guinea. The family Potoroidae is made up of potoroos, rat-kangaroos and bettongs which are only found in Australia.
The best-known macropods are kangaroos, which is why the word 'kangaroo' is often used to describe any of the members of this family. We use 'kangaroos' in this text whenever these animals are being discussed in general.
Kangaroos of all sizes have one thing in common - powerful back legs with long feet. They are distinguished from other animals by the way they hop on these strong back legs. Only a few other small mammals, such as hopping mice, do this.
Hopping uses slightly less energy than four-footed running, but this advantage is lost at low speed. To move slowly, kangaroos balance on their front paws and tail, and then swing their hind legs forward in a pendulum motion.
One of the many odd things about kangaroos is that, on land, they can only move their hind feet together but when swimming they can kick each leg independently. Tree-kangaroos can move each hind leg separately when climbing. It is also interesting to note that, while several species of kangaroos have tails that can wrap around and carry nesting material such as grass and small branches, not one of the tree-kangaroos has the ability to grasp branches with its tail.