As the national symbol of Australia, kangaroos attract interest and fascination from across the globe. Their combative nature and the way they stand on powerful back legs have given them a reputation for being intimidating boxers. Visitors to Australia and the surrounding islands seek out kangaroos as part of their cultural experiences, but these large marsupials should never be underestimated. They can be cute and affectionate, but above all, they’re wild and free. Here are five surprising facts about kangaroos.
#1 – There are four main species of kangaroo
Kangaroos are the world’s largest marsupials, and their population is split into four primary species: the red kangaroo, the eastern grey kangaroo, the western grey kangaroo, and the antilopine kangaroo. All four species stand tall on their back legs, support themselves with thick tails, and carry their babies in their pouches. The few differences between them include their preferred habitats and fur color. The eastern grey kangaroo, for example, is the only kind of kangaroo to live on Tasmania, and red kangaroos prefer the open grassland of central Australia and get their name from their ruddy-colored fur.
#2 – A group of kangaroos is called a mob
Kangaroos are social creatures and live in family groups that can consist of as little as three or as many as 100 individual kangaroos. Regardless of the size, a group of kangaroos is called a mob, or sometimes, a troop or court. Each mob is lead by the largest male who uses his size and strength to assert his dominance. His position of power is usually short-lived, however. Other males in the mob continually fight for the honor of being Head Roo, and mob leaders are usually overthrown after about a year.
# 3 – A kangaroo can out hop the average racehorse
As the only large animal to use hopping as their main means of locomotion, kangaroos are surprisingly fast. A comfortable pace for an adult red kangaroo is around 15 mph, but they’ve been known to reach a top speed of 44 mph for short distances. When moving fast, their powerful hind legs are like tightly wound springs, and they use their tails as a counterbalance. Hopping is an energy efficient way of traveling over long distances through barren landscapes with little food and water.
#4 – Newborn kangaroos are the size of jellybeans
Female kangaroos are pregnant between 21 and 38 days and give birth to babies (called joeys) weighing no more than one or two grams. Immediately after birth, a newborn joey finds its way into the mother’s pouch where they continue to grow and develop for several months. Red kangaroo joeys stay protected in the pouch until they’re about eight months old, and grey kangaroos don’t leave until they’re a year old. But even after they venture out on their own, the pouch is still the best place for a young joey. When they’re scared, they often leap into the safe haven of their mother’s pouch head first.
#5 – There are more kangaroos on Australia than people
There are an estimated 25 million kangaroos living on the continent of Australia, and they outnumber humans by about 1.5 million. As with humans, an annual census is taken to keep track of their growing number. They travel through vast expanses of Australian wilderness, but it’s also common to see small mobs grazing for food in agricultural and residential areas. Their image is seen on everything from Australian currency to postage stamps.