Gray Kangaroo

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The gray kangaroo lives on the grasslands and open woodlands of eastern Australia, including Tasmania. A peaceful grazer, it will defend itself fiercely when necessary. The gray kangaroo is slightly smaller than its close relative the red kangaroo. Although each female gives birth to only one young each year, the gray kangaroo is a successful breeder with a steady population, and its voracious grazing habits have made it unpopular with farmers.

Habits: A sociable species, the gray kangaroo lives in groups known as mobs. A mob has a large mature male, two or three females with joeys (young), and two or three young males. Many mobs graze together. The gray kangaroo has a good sense of smell and sight, and its large, flexible ears swivel to hear intruders approaching from any direction. An alarmed kangaroo thumps the ground hard with its hind legs to warn the mob.

A grazing or slow moving gray kangaroo walks on all fours, using its tail as a balance or support. The tail also stretches out to steady the kangaroo when it bounds forward at high speeds. During the hot days, the gray kangaroo stays under shade trees. In intense heat, the kangaroo digs a hole and sleeps in the cool soil. Mother and joey kangaroos squeak and cluck to each other. The males grunt and cough when they fight. Regular grooming keeps the kangaroo cool and clean in the hot Australian summer. On open ground the gray kangaroo can move at speeds of 40 miles per hour.

Food and Feeding: Like all kangaroos, the gray species eats only plants. In hot weather it grazes in the cool early morning and night, so it does not need to drink very much. The gray kangaroo feeds anywhere, even alongside sheep and cattle. It eats less than sheep and survives on poor quality grass with a low nitrogen content.

Gray Kangaroo and Man: Australian farmers have put up miles of fencing to keep kangaroos off their pastures. But the kangaroos still jump over or squeeze under the fences. The farmers believe the gray kangaroos eat too much of their grazing land, so they shoot large numbers. The gray kangaroo also causes many car accidents in Australia by leaping out unexpectedly in front of cars.

Breeding: The gray kangaroo mates and gives birth in spring and early summer, but it may breed in other seasons if the climate and rainfall are good. The female leaves the mob to give birth, first licking clean her pouch and birth canal. A single joey is born 29 to 38 days after mating. Only an inch long and weighing less than half an ounce, the pink joey crawls out of the birth canal opening and into the motherís pouch.

The joey clamps its mouth onto one of the four teats, which swells in the mouth to keep the joey in place. The joey stays there for 300 days or more, the longest pouch life of all marsupials. It grows slowly the first three months. It develops faster after 15 weeks when the motherís milk increases its fat and protein. The joey suckles for 18 months until it begins eating grass. The joey spends several moths in its motherís pouch before venturing outside. Two male gray kangaroos box for the right to mate with a receptive female.

Key Facts:
Length: 5 ft.
Weight: Up to 200 lb.

Sexual maturity: 18 months-2 years
Mating: Spring to early summer
Gestation: 29-38 days. At least 300 days in pouch
No. of young: 1

Habit: Lives in mobs (family groups)
Diet: Grasses, shrubs, and leaves
Lifespan: Up to 18 years

Related Species: There are 14 other members of the genus Macropus, including the red kangaroo, Macropus rufus, and the wallaroo, Macropus robustus. The closest relative is the western gray kangaroo, Macropus fuliginosus.
Distribution: The gray kangaroo is found throughout forests and woodlands in eastern Australia, including Tasmania.
Conservation: Although it is less numerous than the red kangaroo, and despite large scale killing by farmers, the gray kangaroo numbers more than 1.5 million and is not in immediate danger of extinction.

Features of the Gray Kangaroo:
Hearing: Very acute. The kangaroo can swivel its ears to detect the faintest sounds from many directions.
Tail: Thick and muscular. The kangaroo props itself on its tail when grazing or standing upright and stretches it out behind as a balance when moving fast.
Grazing posture: The kangaroo crawls slowly on all fours, moving its limbs forward in pairs.
Hindquarters: Powerful limbs with greatly extended feet enable the kangaroo to move fast over open terrain. Can leap more than 24 feet.

A Pouch for the Joey: To hop into the pouch, the joey reaches up with its forepaws and dives in headfirst. With its forequarters in the pouch, the joey twists around to bring its head back to the opening. Safely inside, only its head, paws, and tail tip show.

Did You Know:
The gray kangaroo has tremendous endurance. A man on a horse once chased one for 19 miles out of its home range, and then watched as it swan another two miles out to sea.
The gray kangaroo can jump as far as 44 feet.
Early naturalists thought that the joey actually grew out from its motherís teat.