Kangaroos – The 100 Days Project: Day 45 [56]

   The Major Roos

The Red Kangaroo

Photo: I. Adamantios, Creative Commons

Found all over Australia save for broad swathes on the northern and eastern coasts and the southernmost tip of the western, the Red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) has the widest, if most arid range and, by a half-head, is the largest of the macropods – the adult males (‘boomers’), in any case: females (‘fliers’) are considerably smaller (a male will reach two metres in height and up to 80 kilograms in weight; a female will be somewhat shorter and most likely weight in at between 25 and 35 kilograms) – though there can’t be many who reach the size (2.7 metres) of this extraordinary gentleman, photographed in 1932 in Mt Isa, Queensland:

Photo: L. Plass (collection: State Library of Queensland)

They are also, for their colouring, elegance, strength and speed, and the fact that Qantas has chosen to paint red kangaroos on their aircraft, arguably the iconic Australian kangaroos – who has not seen a photograph of a red kangaroo ‘flying’ over the red sand? – although in truth it’s largely (but not exclusively: as one moves westward the females become redder, and there are occasional red females, ‘blue’ males) the males who are red (lighter in summer, a darker red-brown in winter): the females over a fair proportion of the range are a bluish-grey (and are therefore called ‘blue fliers’). Red kangaroos manifest certain specific adaptations to the aridity of their range: can survive, for example, on less water than other kangaroo species, and – their mobility – will travel considerable distances, in times of drought, in pursuit of forage (to graze, for example, the brief green blush after a thunderstorm). Even their hopping – their back almost parallel to the ground and their head low – seems aerodynamically adjusted to their environment and the need to travel long distances with the least resistance.

Red kangaroos are readily distinguished from Greys by their facial markings. Both boomers and fliers have a black and white patch on the side of the muzzle and a white stripe on the cheek (from the corner of the mouth toward the ear).

Photo © 2009 Jeremiah Blatz (Creative Commons licence)

The tip of their tail is pale, which helps further distinguish them from Greys, whose tail-tips are dark.

What else to say? These posts are not intended to be more than helpful sketches. I could speak, once again, about embryonic diapause (etc.), since (unlike the Western and most Eastern Greys) the blue fliers do manifest the ability to maintain an embryo in suspended animation until required, but any such renewed attention – and neglect of their counterbalancing facility of seasonal anoestrus (to suspend oestrus in times of flood or drought) – risks raising again the shibboleths of perpetual pregnancy and ‘explosive’ fecundity, whereas, it would seem to me, the very opposite is true: to have these facilities, surely, is far more likely an indication of the difficulty rather than the ease of reproduction.

But enough. There is more about the Red kangaroo in the following posts, from some slightly different angles of vision.

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