What is a Kangaroo? (Facts and Pictures!)

Many visitors to Australia dream of seeing a kangaroo. Some Australians who live in the big cities have never seen a large kangaroo in the wild. This article describes the different species of kangaroos - what is a kangaroo?

Kangaroos are mammals that vary in size depending on the species and are native to Australia and New Guinea. Most kangaroo species are herbivores. All female kangaroos have a pouch, therefore kangaroos are marsupials. Kangaroos are characterized by their long tails, strong hind legs, wide feet, and long pointed ears.

western grey kangaroo at Lucky Bay

Kangaroo Facts

Kangaroos are an extremely diverse family of marsupials that can be divided into kangaroos, wallabies, wallaroos, pandemelons, tree kangaroos, bettongs, quokkas, and potoroos. Here you can see a list of all 73 kangaroo species.

Kangaroos have extremely strong hind legs, a strong muscular tail and smaller front paws. All female kangaroos have a pouch which develops after birth. Male kangaroos do not have a pouch.

The animals belong to the family Macropodidae which means "big foot".

The following profile describes the most important characteristics of kangaroos:

Home Australia, New Guinea
Family Macropodidae
Are kangaroos mammals? Kangaroos are mammals
Do kangaroos have a pouch? Female kangaroos have a pouch
Size (maximum) 2.2 m (7.2ft) (red kangaroo)
Size (minimum) 0.35 m (1.14 ft) (musky rat kangaroo)
Maximum speed 70 km/h (43 mph)
Weight (maximum) 90 kg (198 lb) (Red giant kangaroo)
Weight (minimum) 0,35 kg (0.77 lb) (musky rat kangaroo)
Weight at birth 0,75 g (0.001 lb)
Size at birth 2.5 cm (1 in)
Life expectancy up to 27 years
Food mostly herbivorous
Number of kangaroos over 45 million kangaroos


red kangaroo with joey eating grass in the desert
A female red kangaroo with a baby in her pouch

Kangaroos belong to the family Macropodidae with over 73 species. All species differ greatly in size. But how big are kangaroos?

Kangaroos are the largest marsupials in the world. The largest kangaroo species (red kangaroo) is up to 2.2 m (7.2 ft) tall when standing upright. The smallest kangaroo species (musky rat kangaroo) grows up to 35 cm (1.14 ft).

In kangaroos, there are large differences in body size between males and females. Male red kangaroos are the largest marsupials in the world. They are extremely muscular and stand upright up to 2.2 m tall (7.2 ft).

Females are often significantly smaller than males. A female red kangaroo grows up to 1.1 m (3.6 ft).

In the smallest kangaroo species, the musky rat kangaroo, there is little difference between males and females. Musky rat kangaroos grow up to 35 cm (1.14 ft) in size.

The following table shows the size of some kangaroo species:

Kangaroo style Size
Red kangaroo (male) 1,4 m - 2,2 m (4.5 ft - 7.2 ft)
Red kangaroo (female) 0.8 m - 1.1 m (2.62 ft - 3.6 ft)
Eastern grey kangaroo (male) 1,2 m - 2,3 m (3.93 ft - 7.54 ft)
Eastern grey kangaroo (female) 1,8 m (5.9 ft)
Western grey kangaroo (male) 0.9 m - 2.2 m (2.95 ft - 7.2 ft)
Western grey kangaroo (female) 0.9 m - 1.7 m (2.95 ft - 5.57 ft)
Antilopine kangaroo (male) 1.2 m - 1.9 m (3.9 ft - 6.2 ft)
Antilopine kangaroo (female) 0,9 m (2.95 ft)
Quokka 0,5m - 0,6 m (1.64 ft - 1.96 ft)
Musky rat kangaroo 0,35 m (1.14 ft)

The table shows that red kangaroos are similar in size to eastern grey kangaroos. However, red kangaroos are significantly more muscular and stronger built than eastern grey kangaroos. On average, red kangaroos grow larger than eastern grey kangaroos.


There are huge differences in weight between the 73 kangaroo species. In addition, the sex plays a major role in many kangaroo species. Males are often twice as heavy as females. How heavy is a kangaroo?

Large adult kangaroos weigh up to 90 kg (198 lb). Animals of the smallest kangaroo species weigh less than 1 kg (2.2 lb). Kangaroos weigh only 1 g (0.03 oz) at birth. Females often have only half the body weight of males.

The following table shows the weight of red kangaroos, eastern grey kangaroos, western grey kangaroos, antilopine kangaroos, quokkas, and musky rat kangaroos:

Kangaroo Species Weight
Red kangaroo (male) 60 kg - 90 kg (132 lb - 198 lb)
Red kangaroo (female) 20 kg - 40 kg (44 lb - 88 lb)
Eastern grey kangaroo (male) 50 kg - 90 kg (110 lb - 198 lb)
Eastern grey kangaroo (female) 15 kg - 40 kg (33 lb - 88 lb)
Western grey kangaroo (male) 40 kg - 70 kg (88 lb - 154 lb)
Western grey kangaroo (female) 25 kg - 40 kg (55 lb - 88 lb)
Antilopine kangaroo (male) 55 kg - 70 kg (121 lb - 154 lb)
Antilopine kangaroo (female) 20 kg - 25 kg (44 lb - 55 lb)
Quokka 2,7 kg - 4,2 kg (5.9 lb - 9.2 lb)
Musky rat kangaroo 0,35 kg - 0,7 kg (0.77 lb - 1.54 lb)

Are kangaroos dangerous?

eastern grey kangaroo fighting
Fighting kangaroos (Source: Jeremy Bezanger)

Most kangaroos live in Australian forests far away from humans. But sometimes kangaroos get into the cities. People and kangaroos also get very close to each other in national parks. But are kangaroos dangerous?

Kangaroos have strong hind legs and sharp claws that can be dangerous for humans. Especially children should not stay near kangaroos. However, unprovoked attacks by kangaroos on humans are extremely rare. Car accidents with kangaroos can cause serious damage with injuries and deaths.

Kangaroos are wild animals that have to defend themselves from their enemies in nature. Already as a young animal, a kangaroo playfully practices simple kicking exercises together with its mother.

Later, male kangaroos use ritualized fights to determine the position within the mob (a group of kangaroos). This gives males access to females.

During extreme drought, kangaroos fight for access to water. Kangaroos also kick their opponents with their strong hind legs. This allows them to fend off natural enemies like dingoes.

However, most kangaroos flee from potential danger. Depending on the kangaroo species and habitat, the animals flee using their fascinating hopping speed, or they hide in the undergrowth of the forest.

sharp huge claws of a kangaroo
Kangaroos have big sharp claws

Kangaroos are very rarely dangerous to humans. Most kangaroos flee when they see humans. However, there are car accidents with kangaroos that can be fatal. Read this article to see how many people die each year from kangaroo attacks and accidents with kangaroos.


red kangaroo with joey in pouch
a female red kangaroo with a joey in her pouch

Kangaroos live all over the Australian continent as well as the island of New Guinea. This means that the habitat of kangaroos varies greatly depending on the region. But not all species of kangaroos live in all regions.

The red kangaroo inhabits the vast dry and hot interior of Australia which is often referred to as the "outback".

Eastern gray kangaroos inhabit the wetter forested areas of eastern Australia.

The western grey kangaroos inhabit the western wetter part of the Australian continent.

There are many other species which often live only in small regions. For example the Quokka. The quokka, a small wallaby, lives in Western Australia on the small islands of Rottnest Island and Bald Island and is almost extinct on the mainland. This article describes the habitats of the largest kangaroo species.

The different kangaroo species also have very different water and food requirements which affects their preferred habitat.


eastern grey kangaroo grazing in NSW national park
A feeding eastern grey kangaroo

Kangaroos are true survivors. They live in a wide variety of regions and can adapt well to the different conditions. But what do kangaroos eat?

The larger kangaroo species are herbivores. The kangaroos' favorite food is fresh grass, green perennials, and ordinary grass. Many of the smaller kangaroo species also eat bugs and worms. The digestive organs and teeth of the smaller kangaroos are not well adapted to eating grass.

When it comes to food preferences, there are differences between kangaroos with less than 5 kg (11 lb), middle-sized kangaroos, as well as kangaroos with more than 30 kg (66 lb).

The larger the kangaroos are, the less demanding the animals are to their food. Smaller kangaroo species eat mainly leaves and fruits. Read and see here if kangaroos can also eat meat. You will be surprised.

The body of a kangaroo is very energy efficient. Kangaroos only need about 50-70% of the energy of a comparably sized mammal. In addition, kangaroos can absorb up to 100% of the water they need through food.

Kangaroos are nocturnal animals. They come out of their hiding places to feed mainly from late afternoon to early morning.

Social behaviour

a western grey kangaroo on a white-sand beach

Kangaroos are social creatures that live in groups (so-called "mobs"). However, these mobs are not fixed structures. Individual animals can leave the mob.

Within the group there is a hierarchy with an alpha male.

Kangaroos are nocturnal animals. However, some animals can also be seen during the day.

On hot days they rest in the shade under trees or in caves. They come out to feed mainly in the late afternoon and at night.

Reproduction and offspring

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

Usually only the alpha male is allowed to mate with the female kangaroos. The hierarchy is determined in kangaroo boxing matches. Working your way up the hierarchy can take years and can even be fatal. Alternatively, a male kangaroo may hope for an unobserved moment to mate with a female.

Before sexual intercourse, the male must find out which female kangaroos are in the appropriate cycle and receptive. The male kangaroo therefore follows the females and sniffs the urine and the lower abdominal area of the female. How do kangaroos mate?

For mating, the female kangaroo bends down. The much larger male stands behind the female and leans over it, inserting the penis into the vagina. Mating lasts from a few moments to 10 minutes. The female kangaroo often tries to get away after a short time but the strong male sometimes tries to hold the female.

This article shows with a video how exactly the mating between kangaroos takes place.

As with all marsupials, birth occurs after a very short gestation period. Kangaroos are typically pregnant for about 30 days. This is followed by the birth of an extremely underdeveloped young joey. Here you can see what a newborn looks like.

Kangaroos are marsupials and mammals. This means that kangaroos grow in the mother's pouch after birth. The newborns are not born in the pouch.

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

Young kangaroos have to climb independently into the mother's pouch after birth and choose one of the four free teats there. This video shows the birth of a kangaroo.

From the teat, the newborns receive milk. Milk is adapted by the mother to the age of the young animal. This means that the nutrients in the milk change with the age of the child.

Kangaroos only ever have one baby per pregnancy. In the pouch, an extremely elastic fold of skin, there is only room for one kangaroo at a time.

In kangaroos, the birth of the next baby occurs only when the old child has finally left the pouch. Some species even have the ability to delay the birth.

With many kangaroo-species, approximately 9 - 12 months pass until weaning.

This article tells you if male kangaroos also have a pouch.


kangaroo family with mother and joey at Lucky Bay, WA

The larger kangaroo species know two ways to move around.


With the help of the two strong hind legs, kangaroos can hop very quickly even over long distances. The hind legs work like springs and enable a relatively energy-saving locomotion at higher speeds. The long, strong tail is used as a counterweight to keep the balance.

Large kangaroos can thus hop at speeds of up to 70 km/h (43 mph).


When moving slowly, kangaroos use all five limbs. They use the two front paws, two hind legs, and the tail. Read this article to see how kangaroos move.

Kangaroos, however, spend most of their time moving slowly while feeding.

Most well-known kangaroo species

Depending on where you are in Australia or New Guinea, you will see different species of kangaroos. But which are the best known kangaroo species?

Red kangaroo

large red kangaroo
a red kangaroo in its natural habitat in NT, Australia

The red kangaroo is the largest and heaviest marsupial in the world. It lives in the outback and most Australians do not get to see it in everyday life.

With its long hind legs and short front paws and powerful appearance, a red kangaroo is easy to spot. It’s on the official emblem of Australia for a good reason.

Eastern grey kangaroo

eastern grey kangaroo at Murramarang National Park

Residents and visitors to the east coast primarily see the eastern grey kangaroo in the wild. This species is similar in size to a red kangaroo, but it is not as muscular. You can always see these animals feeding on the outskirts of cities.

They come out of their shelters mainly in the evening and forage in large groups on huge pastures. They mainly eat grass.

In this fact sheet you will learn more about the eastern grey kangaroo.

Western grey kangaroo

two western grey kangaroos at lucky bay
Source: Nick Dunn (modified)

The western grey kangaroo lives mainly in the western and southern parts of the Australian continent.

Western greys look very similar to the eastern greys. In principle, however, they are slightly smaller than their relatives in the east. Residents of Western Australia can often observe this kangaroo species resting on the white sandy beaches.

This fact sheet tells you more about the life of the western grey kangaroos.

Swamp wallaby

Swamp wallaby. Source: Benjamint444 GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 (GFDL 1.2)
Swamp wallaby. Source: Benjamint444 GNU Free Documentation License 1.2 (GFDL 1.2)

During my trip through Australia I could regularly observe swamp wallabies along the east coast. Especially in national parks these little kangaroos hopped over the paths.

However, these animals are very shy and flee as soon as they see people.


Quokka Davey at Wild Life Sydney Zoo
Here you can see Quokkas in Sydney

Quokkas became famous worldwide in the past because of their friendly and cute smiles. This small kangaroo species lives mainly on Rottnest Island near Perth. Quokkas on Rottnest Island are used to seeing humans, so you can get very close to many animals there. Here you can learn more about quokkas on Rottnest Island.

Kangaroos and the Europeans

The probably first contact of a European with kangaroos was in 1629 when the Dutchman Francois Pelsaert sailed past an island off the west coast of Australia. The merchant and seafarer described a previously unknown animal species similar to a wallaby.

A few decades later in 1658, a second encounter with a small species of kangaroo was described. The Dutch sailor Samuel Volckersen landed on Rottnest Island and on the mainland of Western Australia. There, the navigator discovered quokkas which he first mistook for rats.

a quokka eating leaves
A Quokka (Source: Mark Stoop)

However, there are also reports from 1499 that sailors discovered a coast in the south. Based on the description, the sailors could have landed in southwestern Australia (source). They also described a creature which could be a western grey kangaroo. The sailors described a large animal with the head of a fox, the hands of a man, the tail of a monkey and a pouch in which the young animal is carried.

Humans, of course, have had contact with kangaroos for much longer. Aborigines have lived together with the marsupials in Australia for over 50,000 years.

Kangaroo ancestors

The ancestors of today's kangaroos lived until about 15 million years ago. At that time in Australia there were quite different climatic conditions than today. The continent was full of rainforests and much wetter than today.

At that time, the kangaroo ancestors lived in the trees and ate leafes. Even today there are still species of tree kangaroos. These are mainly native to New Guinea.

Due to climatic changes, the Australian continent became drier and drier over millions of years. The forest areas shrunk, but large areas of grassland emerged.

The kangaroos had to adapt to the constantly changing habitat. Locomotion in the trees became less important, but they now had to be able to cover longer distances on large areas of grassland.

The musky rat kangaroo (the smallest kangaroo species) that still exists today is considered one of the most primitive ground-dwelling kangaroos.

procoptodon goliah
Illustrations of Procoptodon goliah. Sources: Left (Apokryltaros at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0); Top right (Nobu Tamura, CC BY 3.0); Bottom right (Nobu Tamura, CC BY-SA 4.0)

About 50000 years ago, a species of kangaroo became extinct that was even larger and more muscular than today's kangaroos. You can learn more about the largest kangaroo and the extinct giant kangaroo species in this article.

Are kangaroos endangered?

kangaroo with joey in a burnt forest
Eastern grey kangaroos in a burnt forest (Source: Jo-Anne McArthur (modified))

None of the major kangaroo species is on the list of endangered species. In some regions commercial hunting of kangaroos is allowed to avoid uncontrolled reproduction of kangaroos. Too many kangaroos are a problem in agriculture because they eat the food which is growing on the fields.

Especially smaller kangaroo species are endangered. Habitat destruction has been driven primarily by large-scale farming.

Small kangaroo species are also threatened by introduced animals (e.g. red foxes) but also domestic cats.

On the island of New Guinea, some tree and bush kangaroos are threatened by deforestation. Meanwhile, some tree and bush kangaroos are on the IUCN list of threatened species.