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Quick links: Rat-kangaroos Bettongs & Potoroos Hare-wallabies Quokka Pademelons Nailtail wallabies
  Rock-wallabies Forest wallabies Tree-kangaroos Wallabies Kangaroos & wallaroos


Multitudes of macropods

Red kangaroo hopping

There are many more species of macropods in Australia and New Guinea (67 species) than antelope in southern Africa (34 species).This makes them one of the world’s most successful radiations of mammalian herbivores occupying almost all available terrestrial habitats including burrowing and tree-living species. They form a Superfamily, Macropodoidea, in the Marsupialia and are the most diverse of this mammalian Subclass with a body size ranging from about 0.5 to 92 kg. With the exception of the bounding Musky Rat-kangaroo, all hop at speed and gain purchase through an elongated and robust fourth toe. Although many dinosaurs were bipedal, kangaroos are the largest known animals to hop. They have a forward facing pouch that fully encloses the pouch young until it is furred and starts to view the outside world by poking its head out of the pouch opening. Collectively they are known by the common name, macropod, referring to the long foot. Three Families are currently recognised and the majority of species are in Australia with some in New Guinea and offshore islands.


Musky rat-kangaroo
©Dave Watts/Lochman Transparencies

 The sole representative of this Family is the Musky Rat-kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus) of north-eastern Queensland rainforests. This is the most primitive of the macropods (it retains the first toe) and the only fully diurnal species. It has an unspecialised gut and feeds mainly on fruit. It bounds rather than hops and gives birth to multiple young.
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©Paul de Tores

This Family includes five species of Bettongs, four species of Potoroos (one extinct), and the extinct Desert Rat-kangaroo. They are found only in Australia in ranges that have been much reduced by colonisation and the introduction of European farming practices, especially sheep grazing. Their populations remain suppressed by introduced Red Foxes and domestic Cats. They are diminutive in size ranging from 0.9 – 3 kg, the differentiation in the lengths of hind-limbs and fore-limbs in not pronounced; the tail has prehensile abilities and the gut though differentiated into a large diverticulum, a sacciform fore-stomach and a small hind-stomach is less complex than the Macropodids. They can digest cellulose with the assistance of micro-organisms in the fore-stomach but have a diverse diet including fungi, roots, tubers, fruits, herbs, grasses and insects. The mycophagy (fungus eating) plays an important role in forest health through the distribution of fungi that assist trees in fixing nitrogen. They may also have once suppressed shrubs that are now invasive in pastoral lands from which the Potoroids are extinct. The Family includes the only burrowing species, the Burrowing Bettong (Bettongia lesueur). Most species are vulnerable to extinction and Gilbert’s Potoroo (Potorous gilberti), thought extinct, was rediscovered in one population in 1994. Two species, the Burrowing Bettong and Woylie (B. pencicillata), have been successfully reintroduced to large properties in their former range where they are protected by a boundary of predator-proof fencing.
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Black wallaroo

This Family is the most diverse and widespread as it includes species in New Guinea. The Family is divided into a number of groups along generic and/or body size lines. These include:

Hare-wallabies (Lagochestes and Lagostrophus)

Banded hare-wallaby
©Jiri Lochman/Lochman Transparencies

The Hare-wallabies are small (< 5 kg), delicate-bodied wallabies typically found in arid or seasonally arid tussock grasslands and woodlands. Two of the four species of Lagochestes are extinct. The Banded Hare-wallaby (Lagostrophus fasciatus) occupies an uncertain taxonomic position and may represent the remnant of a once diverse Sub-family of broad-faced kangaroos (Sthenurinae).
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Quokka (Setonix)


This monospecific genus contains the Quokka (S. brachyurus), a small and somewhat taxonomically anomalous wallaby. It is somewhat rotund with short hind feet and a scaly almost naked tail. It is confined to the south-west of Western Australia and is predominantly a browser unlike the majority of grazing Macropodids. There is some speculation that it is a relict of a browsing group of macropods and shares this character with another anomalous species, the Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor).
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Pademelons (Thylogale)

Red-necked pademelon

The Pademelons are small, compact, short-tailed wallabies that typically inhabit wet sclerophyll and rainforests from Tasmania to New Guinea. The genus is equally diverse in New Guinea (4 species) and Australia (3 species) with one of the latter, the Red-legged Pademelon (T. stigmatica), in both regions. Reddish coloured fur is something of a theme with red-bellied, red-necked and red-legged in the species common names. They emerge from forest cover at night to eat succulent grasses and take some browse.
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Nailtail Wallabies (Onychogalea)

Bridled nailtail wallabies

 The Nailtail Wallabies are so named because of a small, horny spur on the end of the tail. The function of this spur has been the subject of much speculation including a pivot for rapid directional change. Of these attractively marked mid-sized wallabies, only the Northern Nailtail Wallaby (O. unguifera) remains abundant and relatively widespread. The Bridled Nailtail Wallaby (O. fraenata) is threatened and reduced to one small population but through a successful captive breeding program it has been reintroduced to two locations at the western margins of its original expansive eastern Australian range. The Crescent Nailtail Wallaby (O. lunata) is extinct.
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Rock-wallabies (Petrogale)

Black-footed rock-wallaby
©Michael Williams

The Rock-wallabies are the most diverse Australian genus with 16 species. Recognition of this diversity has come from the application of cytology and molecular techniques in taxonomic investigations. Thus some similar looking species along the Queensland coast are now recognised as separate species. Since many populations are isolated, genetic analyses have investigated inbreeding depression but found sufficient gene flow to maintain genetic variance. The Rock-wallabies range in body size from the tiny 1-kg Monjon (P. burbidgei) of the Kimberley to the 12-kg Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby (P. xanothopus) in the arid parts of south and eastern Australia. The genus includes some of the most attractively furred species and the Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby (P. penicillata) was decimated by a fur trade that prospered from 1884-1914. The habitat preference that gives them their common name is for rocky outcrops and slopes, boulder piles, cliffs and gorges, and escarpments. Their ability to hop up near vertical rock faces is legendary.
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Forest Wallabies (Dorcopsis)

Grey forest wallaby

The six species of Forest Wallabies are confined to New Guinea. Their taxonomic affinities to the Australian Wallabies are not well-defined but molecular evidence suggests a separation about 10 million years ago. Their behaviour and ecology in the wild is not well-studied but as the common name suggests they are inhabitants of the forest floor. The curious characteristic of these wallabies is that they curve their tail so only the tip touches the ground while standing and feeding. They also use their forepaws regularly to manipulate food for chewing by the permanent molars.
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Tree-kangaroos (Dendrolagus)

Lumholtz's tree-kangaroo
©Michael Williams

Tree-kangaroos represent a return to an arboreal existence from the possum-like ancestor of kangaroos and their kind. Tree-kangaroos are more diverse in New Guinea (8 species) than Australia (2 species) and inhabit lowland and upland tropical rainforest. The hind-limbs are relatively short and the fore-limbs are robust with strong claws to assist climbing and purchase in the trees. A folivorous diet places the Tree-kangaroos as the austral equivalents of Leaf-eating and Proboscis Monkeys in south-east Asia.
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Wallabies (Macropus and Wallabia)

Agile wallaby

The division between the wallabies and kangaroos in the genus Macropus is arbitrary and based on body size and an adult foot length of <250 mm. Wallabies do not exceed 20 kg and include small species like the Tammar Wallaby (M. eugenii) and Parma Wallaby (M. parma) of less than 5 kg. The nine species are collectively found across Australia with one, the Agile Wallaby (M. agilis), also in New Guinea; and the Toolache Wallaby (M. greyi) now extinct. The species tend to rest in woodlands and then graze at night in adjacent grasslands or grassy patches in the forest. The Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) is more a browser and placed in its own genus. The species is relatively secretive and has been remarkably resistant to urban encroachment on its habitat unlike most of the other wallabies. The Agile Wallaby remains abundant across northern Australia and is readily seen in urban reserves in Darwin and Townsville.
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Kangaroos and Wallaroos (Macropus)

Red kangaroo
©Ulrike Kloecker

 The six species of large Kangaroos include the iconic Eastern Grey Kangaroo (‘Skippy’) (M. giganteus) and the Red kangaroo (M. rufus) of the Outback. Eastern and Western Grey (M. fuliginosus) Kangaroos were only separated as species in the 1970s and neither is closely related to the Red Kangaroo. The latter has stronger affinities with the less well-known Wallaroo group of three species. The Common Wallaroo (M. robustus), a robust hill-dwelling species, is the most geographically widespread of all macropods although it is absent from Tasmania. Least well-known is the Black Wallaroo (M. bernadus) which is the smallest member of this group and is found only on the Arnhem Land escarpment. The species may have become marooned in this small geographic range through past climate change. The other tropical species, the sociable Antilopine Wallaroo (M. antilopinus), is gracile and males vie with those of Red Kangaroos as the largest living macropod.
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Last modified: 11/23/08