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Macropus rufus [ma crO' puhs roo' fus]
The red kangaroo is the largest living marsupial, and the largest mammal native to Australia. An adult male may stand 4 to 5 feet tall and weigh up to 200 pounds, but adult females rarely reach more than 3-1/2 feet in height. Like all other kangaroos, the red kangaroo has a large, well-muscled tail up to 4 feet long, and powerful hindquarters. The second and third toes of each hind foot are fused and shaped into a grooming claw that is quite sharp and can be a very effective self-defense weapon. The forelimbs end in clawed paws that are used with great dexterity in eating, grooming, and self-defense.
The red kangaroo's name comes from the reddish brown color of the male's back and flanks; the coat color of females is usually more bluish gray.
Distribution and Habitat
Red kangaroos inhabit the dry, inland, central part of Australia, and can be found in scrubland, shrubland, grassland, and desert habitats. Although they prefer to forage in open plains areas with neither trees nor bushes, they are seldom found too far from some kind of shade or shelter.
Like all other kangaroos, the red is a strict herbivore. Its preferred diet is a mixture of grasses and flowering plants, but it will also eat leaves, wood, bark, and stems if the preferred foods are scarce. Because their preferred foods tend to be rich in moisture, red kangaroos can go for months without taking a drink of water.
Red kangaroos will breed at any time of the year. Males compete for mating opportunities with several females, with each male trying to monopolize access to one group of females and driving away all other males. No permanent pair bonds are ever formed, however.
As with all other marsupials, the baby kangaroo -- which is barely 3/4 inches long and 1/25 ounce in weight -- is born nearly helpless and must crawl from the birth canal into the mother's pouch, where it will then remain and finish its development for about 70 days. The joey is weaned at about 1 year of age, but will usually stay near its mother until it is 1-1/2 to 2 years old.
In favorable conditions, a female red kangaroo will typically give birth to three young every two years.
Females reach sexual maturity at 15 to 20 months of age, males at 20 to 24 months. Red kangaroos live up to 22 years in the wild.
Other Behaviors and Habits
Red kangaroos typically live in mobs of about 10 individuals, with the majority being females with their offspring. Females always stay with their natal mob, while males typically move from mob to mob.
A red kangaroo can travel at 40 miles per hour over short distances, can leap 27 feet in a single bound, and can clear a 10-foot-high fence with ease.
This page was last updated on February 19, 2017.