How long do Kangaroos stay in the Pouch? (Solved)

Kangaroos are marsupials and all female kangaroos have pouches. During my journey through Australia I could observe again and again young animals in the mother's pouch, but in some pouches no animal could be seen. How long do kangaroos stay in the pouch?

The babies of many kangaroo species stay in the mother's pouch for 8 - 11 months. They leave the pouch for the first time about 6 - 9 months after birth. The young finally leave the pouch about 8 - 12 months after birth, depending on the species.

a kangaroo joey pops its head out of its mothers pouch
Source: Ethan Brooke

Even after leaving the pouch, young kangaroos depend on their mother. They put their head into the pouch to drink milk until they are about 1.5 years old.

The sequence from birth to independent kangaroo consists of the following life events:

Kangaroos are marsupials. This does not mean that kangaroos are born in their mother's pouch. However, the animals spend their first months of life there after birth.

How much time joeys typically spend in the pouch

Much of the young animal's development occurs in the mother's pouch. The following table shows how long kangaroos typically stay in the mother's pouch:

Kangaroo species Leaves the pouch for the first time (age in months) Leaves the pouch permanently (age in months) Drinks milk (age in months)
Red kangaroo 6 8 - 9 12
Eastern grey kangaroo 8 - 10 9 - 11 18
Western grey kangaroo 9 - 10 10 - 11 18
Antilopine kangaroo 7 9 12 - 13
Quokka 5 - 6 6 - 7 8

The table shows that kangaroos leave the pouch for the first time when they are six to nine months old. Within this time, young kangaroos experience incredible growth.

A pouch young (joey) weighs about 1 gram (0.03 oz) at birth. In the larger kangaroo species (e.g. Red Kangaroo, Western Grey Kangaroo, Eastern Grey Kangaroo), a young weighs about 4 kg (141 oz) when it leaves the pouch.

About the birth of kangaroos and time in the pouch

Kangaroos are born after a very short pregnancy. The development time until birth is about one month. The fetus must crawl independently from the mother's birth canal into the mother's pouch. The opening of the birth canal is on the underside of the abdomen:

the birth canal and pouch opening of a kangaroo
After birth a joey must climb from the birth canal to the pouch opening

The picture shows the birth canal (below) circled in red from which the young animal (joey) is born. The newborn must then crawl independently from the birth canal over the mother's fur into the pouch. The opening of the pouch is also circled in red.

What does a newborn kangaroo look like when it enters the pouch?

The animal is blind after birth, about 2 cm (0.78 in) tall, without fur, and has hind legs that are only recognizable as small stumps. Only the front paws are already somewhat better developed. Only with the help of the front paws the animal has to crawl from the birth canal to one of the four free teats inside the pouch. This article shows the kangaroo birth with video!

The following photo shows a newborn shortly after birth attached to a teat in the pouch:

a newborn kangaroo joey attached to a teat in the pouch
Source: Geoff Shaw, CC BY-SA 3.0

Kangaroos are precocial animals. They stay in their mother's pouch until they are viable on their own. The picture above shows that kangaroos are not independently viable after birth. The newborns are virtually unrecognizable as kangaroos.

What does the mother do for the newborn in the bag?

The young animals are hardly noticed by the mother during this time. Only regular cleaning of the pouch by licking indicates the existance of a young animal in the pouch. Depending on the kangaroo species, a joey is permanently in the pouch and connected to the mother's teat during the first four to five months of life.

First movements are visible from outside the pouch at the age of about 3-4 months. The closer the first emergence outside the pouch comes, the more the young kangaroo moves inside the pouch. The eyes open for the first time only 1-2 months before the kangaroo looks out of the pouch for the first time.

First steps and jumps outside the pouch

Before kangaroos leave the pouch for the first time, they stick their heads out a few times. They like to nibble on stalks of grass if they are within their reach. However, they mainly feed on their mother's milk. They get this from a teat in the mother's pouch.

But how do Joeys get out of the pouch for the first time?

The first time the little kangaroos leave the pouch by falling out. The mother plays an active role by relaxing the muscles that control the opening of the pouch.

About a month before kangaroos finally leave the pouch, they begin to hop out and back in independently. They slowly get used to life outside the pouch and start to eat more and more food apart from milk.

Nevertheless, the young animals still return regularly to the pouch to receive milk. A kangaroo mother always keeps a watchful eye on her child when it’s outside the pouch.

Why kangaroos need to leave the pouch

a joey (red kangaroo)
A joey (red kangaroo). Source: Fiver, the psychic, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Essentially, there are three reasons why young kangaroos must leave the pouch for good:

A young kangaroo is reluctant to leave the pouch. Therefore, the mother must deny access to the pouch.

Can you see the joey? Its hind legs and tail are sticking out of the pouch:

a large eastern grey kangaroo joey sticking out of its mothers pouch

What happens shortly before leaving the pouch for good?

About a week before the kangaroo finally leaves the pouch, the mother begins the gradual rejection of the young.

This means that the mother occasionally ignores the young, or does not actively cooperate when trying to get into the pouch. Sometimes the mother also moves away when the little one wants to put its head into the pouch.

Nevertheless, the mother calls her young in dangerous situations to be able to flee together quickly. The jump into the pouch then takes only a few seconds.

How does a joey get into the pouch?

The following video shows how the mother initially ignores the young kangaroo's attempts:

In the video you can also see that the young kangaroo can only get into the pouch with the help of the mother. Without the mother's help, the young can only put its head into the pouch. Only as soon as the mother bends forward, the young kangaroo gets into the bag with the entire body.

The young kangaroo learns during this time that it is only allowed in the pouch in dangerous situations.

Life after leaving the pouch

Between the first and the final leaving of the pouch about 1 - 2 months pass. The animals are then between 12 and 18 months old.

At this time, the young animal has about 20% of the body weight of the mother. Red kangaroos weigh between 4 and 5 kg when they finally leave the pouch.

two western grey kangaroos at lucky bay
Source: Nick Dunn

How does the young kangaroo deal with its new independence?

The young kangaroo tries again and again to get into the pouch during the first days. However, the mother does not cooperate, so the young kangaroo cannot hop into the pouch. However, these attempts end after a few days.

What is the young animal allowed to do?

The young animal may only put its snout into the pouch to receive breast milk. With time, the intake of mother's milk is also reduced more and more. The more common food like grasses and leaves the young kangaroo eats, the less milk it needs.

What does the mother do after the young kangaroo leaves the pouch?

Once the young kangaroo is no longer allowed in the pouch, many kangaroo species often give birth to a new kangaroo within a few days to weeks. Many kangaroo species can delay the birth. This decouples the time of mating from the time of birth. This allows a new animal to be born promptly after the young animal leaves. The newborn can grow up in the pouch within the next few months.

Bonding with the mother after leaving the pouch

two western grey kangaroos at lucky bay

A young kangaroo always stays close to its mother even after leaving the pouch. It continues to rely on the mother to lead the way to safety.

The female kangaroo continues to call her young

The mother can call her young with a special sound. This happens in case of danger, or if the young kangaroo got lost.

The young kangaroo still sticks its head into the mother's pouch several times a day to drink milk. The mother also continues to groom the offspring's fur.

When does the relationship between the mother and her Joey change?

Behavior between the mother and offspring changes only with weaning and especially with the attainment of sexual maturity.

Weaning young kangaroos

Antilopine kangaroos and red kangaroos are finally weaned at the age of one year. The grey kangaroos are weaned at the age of 1.5 years. However, the exact time of weaning is highly dependent on external living conditions. Kangaroos can therefore also be weaned significantly later.

How does the weaning show?

The young animal receives milk less and less often. At weaning, the mother finally refuses to provide milk. The young kangaroo still tries for a few days. However, these attempts end after a few days.

Weaning otherwise has no significant social impact on the behavior between the mother and the offspring. Only when sexual maturity is reached does the offspring gradually become more independent.

How do males and females behave after weaning?

However, there are major differences between males and females.

Males often leave the mother's territory 1 - 2 years after weaning.

Females often have a lifelong bond with their mother.

Conclusion: How long baby kangaroos stay in their mother's pouch

Kangaroos remain permanently in the pouch for the first few months of life, feeding from a teat in the mother's pouch. Between the ages of 6 and 10 months, kangaroos leave the pouch for the first time, but return.

Only two months later, the young animals must finally leave the pouch. However, they are still allowed to stick their snouts into the pouch to drink milk.

Meanwhile, the next joey is already growing in the mother's pouch.

With an age between 12 and 18 months, the animals are finally weaned and have no access to the pouch.