Chapter 1 – Understanding Wallabies and Wallaroos

Wallabies and wallaroos are marsupials in the family Macropodidae. This group of “macropods,” a name literally meaning “large foot,” also includes kangaroos, tree-kangaroos and pademelons.

Wallaby Wallaroo

Macropods as a group are native to Australia,  New Guinea, and the neighboring islands. Prior to the European settlement of Australia, there were more than 50 different species of macropods.

Six species have now become extinct, and an additional 11 have greatly dropped in population density due to habitat loss, climate change, and predation among other factors.

1) Wallaby vs. Wallaroo

The term “wallaby” does not refer to a particular species. Rather, it is a categorization used to define a number of macropods of moderate size. There are about thirty different species that fall into the “wallaby” category and they are differentiated into groups including:

  • Typical Wallabies – genus Macropus, most closely related to kangaroosand Wallaroos
  • Pademelons – forest-dwelling wallabies, genus Thylogale
  • Rock-Wallabies – genus Petrogale
  • Banded Hare-WallabyLagostrophus fasciatus

The most general difference between wallaroos and wallabies is their size. Wallabies are typically small to medium-sized with thick-set bodies. Wallaroos are only slightly smaller than kangaroos, but also have thick-set bodies.

Both animals exhibit a similar upright stance with tucked elbows and bent wrists as well as large hind feet.

More significant differences can be seen between wallaroos and the various types of wallaby. Rock-wallabies, for example, tend to live on rugged terrain, using their rough feet to grip the rock.

Pademelons are typically found in forested regions and are some of the smallest marsupials on Earth. They have similar body structure to the wallaroo, but with shorter, thicker tails that are sparsely haired.

Wallaby Wallaroo
Consequently, the list of “types” of wallabies is quite long:

Agile wallaby, Macropus agilis

Allied rock-wallaby, Petrogale assimilis

Banded hare-wallaby, Lagostrophus fasciatus

Black dorcopsis, Dorcopsis atrata

Black-flanked rock-wallaby, Petrogale lateralis

Black-striped wallaby, Macropus dorsalis

Bridled nail-tail wallaby, Onychogalea fraenata

Brown dorcopsis, Dorcopsis muelleri

Brown’s pademelon, Thylogale browni

Brush-tailed rock-wallaby, Petrogale penicillata

Calaby’s pademelon, Thylogale calabyi

Cape York rock-wallaby, Petrogale coenensis

Crescent nail-tail wallaby, Onychogalea lunata (extinct)

Dusky pademelon, Thylogale brunii

Eastern hare-wallaby, Lagorchestes leporides (extinct)

Godman’s rock-wallaby, Petrogale godmani

Gray dorcopsis, Dorcopsis luctuosa

Herbert’s rock-wallaby, Petrogale herberti

Macleay’s dorcopsis, Dorcopsulus macleayi

Mareeba rock-wallaby, Petrogale mareeba

Monjon, Petrogale burbidgei

Mt. Claro rock-wallaby, Petrogale sharmani

Mountain pademelon, Thylogale lanatus

Nabarlek, Petrogale concinna

Northern nail-tail wallaby, Onychogalea unguifera

Parma wallaby, Macropus parma (rediscovered, thought extinct for 100 years)

Proserpine rock-wallaby, Petrogale persephone

Purple-necked rock-wallaby, Petrogale purpureicollis

Red-legged pademelon, Thylogale stigmatica

Red-necked pademelon, Thylogale thetis

Red-necked wallaby, Macropus rufogriseus

Rothschild’s rock-wallaby, Petrogale rothschildi

Rufous hare-wallaby, Lagorchestes hirsutus

Short-eared rock-wallaby, Petrogale brachyotis

Swamp wallaby or Black Wallaby, Wallabia bicolor

Tammar wallaby, Macropus eugenii

Tasmanian pademelon, Thylogale billardierii

Toolache wallaby, Macropus greyii (extinct)

Unadorned rock-wallaby, Petrogale inornata

Western brush wallaby, Macropus irma

Whiptail wallaby, Macropus parryi

White-striped dorcopsis, Dorcopsis hageni

Yellow-footed rock-wallaby, Petrogale xanthopus

The Bennett’s or Red Necked Wallaby, indigenous to Tasmania and mainland Australia, is the type most typically kept as a pet.

These animals grow to a size of 35-60 lbs. / 16-27 kg and stand 2-3 feet / 0.6-0.9 meters tall when fully grown. Their lifespan is 10-15 years, but some individuals in captivity have reached 19-20 years of age. They are reasonably hardy in colder climates and come in both grey and albino varieties.

This text will use the term “wallaby” in a somewhat generalized fashion with the assumption that you will be caring for an animal like the Bennett’s Wallaby.

2) Understanding Wallaroos

The name “wallaroo” is actually a portmanteau of “kangaroo” and “wallaby,” though native Australians generally do not use this name. The greatest distinguishing feature in all of these animals is size.

If you were to use the terms in ascending order from smallest to largest you would have:

  • wallaby
  • wallaroo
  • kangaroo

In Australia, large, slim-bodied macropods are referred to as kangaroos while smaller, thick-set species are called wallabies. Therefore, in its native land, the wallaroo is just a little smaller than a kangaroo.

There are three major species of wallaroo, all typically found in  open country, and a number of sub-species. All share similar characteristics with their kangaroo and wallaby relatives.

Wallaroos, like kangaroos and wallabies, are known for their upright stance with wrists raised and tucked elbows. They move by hopping with their large hind feet, balancing with their long tails.

Though wallaroos are wild animals, they are becoming more popular as pets, with more professional breeders offering animals for sale. In Australia, it is not uncommon for individuals to rescue orphaned wallaroo babies and to raise them by hand.

Wallaroos are not just cute and cuddly as pets, they are also very affectionate and entertaining to have around.

3) Types of Wallaroos

There are three major species of Wallaroo:

  • Common Wallaroo(Macropus robustus)
  • Black Wallaroo(Macropus bernardus)
  • Antilopine Wallaroo(Macropus antilopinus)

The Common Wallaroo is also sometimes referred to as the Hill Kangaroo or the Hill Wallaroo. There are four subspecies of Common Wallaroo found in various parts of Australia excluding Tasmania.

a.)  Common Wallaroo (Macropus robustus)

The four subspecies of Macropus robustus are categorized based on differences in color, size and genetics.

  • Macropusrobustus robustus (Eastern Wallaroo)
  • Macropusrobustus erubescens (Euro)
  • Macropusrobustus woodwardi (Northern Wallaroo)
  • Macropusrobustus isabellinus (Barrow Island Euro)

The Barrow Island Euro is the most distinctive of the four subspecies, having a smaller and stockier build. These wallaroos may reach only half the size of other species. The Eastern wallaroo and the Euro are the most similar. In fact, they are thought to hybridize naturally in the wild.

The natural range of the Common Wallaroo includes most regions of Australia including Cape York Peninsula, Central Australia, Hodgson and Victoria. They are found in a variety of habitats including extremely arid regions where annual rainfall is less than 15 inches (380 mm).

Common Wallaroos tend to prefer areas that offer large rocks for shade, though they can also be found in sparsely vegetated areas. This is one of the largest species of wallaroo, with males reaching almost twice the size as females.

At maturity, male Common Wallaroos weigh as much as 78 lbs. (35 kg) while females are just 33 lbs. (15 kg).

Males are 45 to 78 inches (114 to 200 cm) long, with an additional tail length of 21 to 35 inches (53 to 89 cm).

Females are 44 to 60 inches (112 to 152 cm) long with a tail length of 21 to 29 inches (53 to 74 inches).

Wallaby Wallaroo

Common Wallaroos have darker, less dense fur than other macropods. The ventral side is typically dark grey with white, sparse fur on the underside. Their bare noses are black, with equally dark coloration at the back of the ears.

The lips, base, and inside of the ears, however, are pale or white. The legs and tail vary slightly in color from the body, being dark brown and bleeding to black near the tips.

Common Wallaroos are opportunistic breeders and generally do not exhibit any kind of seasonal pattern for mating.

Females reach sexual maturity at around 18 months while males may not be fully mature until 22 months of age.

When conditions are good, females often have one joey attached to the teat and another either in the pouch or out of the pouch but still nursing.

The gestation period is about 34 days, and the time a joey spends in the pouch ranges from 237 to 269 days.

The average lifespan of the Common Wallaroo in the wild is 18.5 years, while the captive lifespan can be a whole year longer. The key to their longevity is the fact that these wallaroos are well adapted to survival in dry environments.

In their native habitat, temperatures can exceed 120°F (49°C) but Common Wallaroos have several means of thermo-regulating their bodies to survive. In excessive heat, they pant. They may also dig a hole in the ground to keep cool.

b.)  Black Wallaroo (Macropus bernardus)

The Black Wallaroo is found within a limited area on the western edge of Arnhem Land, in northern Australia. They are typically found in closed forests, Eucalyptus forests, or open grasslands. They tend to prefer habitats with large boulders to provide cover.

Males are generally sooty brown or black in color while females are dark brown or grey. Black Wallaroos are the smallest species of wallaroo and the smallest in the kangaroo family.

These animals range in size from 28 to 48 lbs. (13 to 22 kg) and have a have a length from 2.6 to 3.3 feet (0.8 to 1 meter).  Black Wallaroo about 2/3 the size of Common Wallaroos, and have shorter ears.

Black Wallaroos can breed throughout the year as long as conditions remain optimal. Gestation lasts between 31-36 days with the young remaining exclusively in the pouch for about 4 months.

Though all wallaroos tend to be somewhat solitary, the Black Wallaroo is rarely found in groups consisting of more than three individuals. These groups often include a male, a female and a large joey.

When two males encounter each other, they may exhibit aggressive behavior, walking stiff legged, pulling on grass, or straining to exaggerate their height. These confrontations tend to end quickly and generally do not lead to injury.

Wallaby Wallaroo

Black Wallaroos are one of the least studied species in the kangaroo family because they are incredibly shy. When approached, they tend to flee until they are out of eyesight.

What is known about this species is that they spend 7 to 14 hours a day grazing and are most active at dawn and at dusk. They use camouflage to hide from predators including eagles, dingoes, crocodiles, foxes, and humans.

There are currently several conservation efforts in place to preserve the Black Wallaroo species. A large part of their natural habitat is located in Kakadu National Park in Australia, which is already protected.

c.)  Antilopine Wallaroo (Macropus antilopinus)

The Antilopine Wallaroo lives in the savanna woodlands in the northern and tropical regions of Australia. Their native habitat ranges from Kimberley to the Gulf of Carpentaria, though they are also found in the Cape York Peninsula.

These wallaroos spend their days resting in shaded areas, coming out at dusk to graze. During the wet season, they may also graze during the day when the weather is cool, but will return to shelter during periods of heavy rain.

Antilopine Wallaroos are one of the most sexually dimorphic of the wallaroo species. Males exhibit a reddish tan color while females are brown with grey heads and shoulders. Females also have white tips on the back of their ears.

Both sexes have white feet and paws tipped in black. Males have a swelling above their nostrils which is believed to help keep them cool.

In terms of size, male Antilopine Wallaroos can reach up to 150 lbs. (70 kg) while females range from 30-65 lbs. (15-30 kg). The average length is 5-6 ft. (1.5-1.9 m).

Though little information is available regarding the lifespan of the Antilopine Wallaroo in the wild, the longest recorded survival in captivity is 16 years.

Unlike other species, the Antilopine Wallaroo breeds once per year, generally starting in December near the beginning of the wet season.

While females of the species become sexually mature around 16 months (and develop their pouch after 20 months), males do not mature for closer to 2 years.

Once conception occurs, the gestation period lasts about 35 days. Only one joey is born per breeding season and it develops inside the pouch for about 20 weeks.

After 6 months, the joey emerges, but continues to nurse until about 15 months of age. Once the joey reaches the mother’s pouch, the males lose interest and join male-only groups. Females remain together with their young.

Antilopine Wallaroos are more social than other species. Joeys tend to stay near their mothers even into adulthood, resting together and grooming each other.

Older males are more solitary, but younger males often form “bachelor groups,” while females form larger groups with their young. These groups move annually between regular grazing grounds.

4) What About The Kangaroo?

The kangaroo is the largest species in the Macropodidae family and it is endemic to Australia. The kangaroo appears on the  national coat of arms, and on some of the currency. Its likeness  is rife in popular culture, and is the “image” of all things Australian for the rest of the world.

Keeping kangaroos as pets, however, is a somewhat difficult matter due to their vastly larger size. Wallabies, wallaroos, and kangaroos all have very similar body structure, but some species of kangaroos can reach a maximum weight of 200 lbs. (90 kg).

Kangaroos move by hopping with their powerful hind legs and they are capable of reaching speeds up to 44 mph (70 km/h). When moving at slower speeds, the kangaroo often uses its tail and forelimbs as a tripod, raising its hind legs forward.

You may be surprised to hear that kangaroos are also very good swimmers – they often escape into the water when pursued by predators.

Kangaroo have a chambered stomach like that of a cow or sheep. In a similar way to livestock, they regurgitate food that has already been consumed and continue to chew it, breaking it down further for easier digestion.

This action, known as “chewing their cud,” helps to give kangaroos their oddly matter-of-fact expression. It’s quite common for a roo to stand up and stare with a rather benign, bored look that only compliments its whimsical charm.

All kangaroos are herbivores, though some subsist exclusively on grasses while others also eat some shrubs. If you do not have a rural setting for them to graze and range, they are extremely difficult pets to keep.

Certainly wallabies and wallaroos after one year of age do not qualify as house pets, but their smaller size makes them more manageable as companions than their larger cousins.

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