1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kangaroo

KANGAROO, the universally accepted, though not apparently the native, designation of the more typical representatives of the marsupial family Macropodidae (see Marsupialia). Although intimately connected with the cuscuses and phalangers by means of the musk-kangaroo, the kangaroos and wallabies, together with the rat-kangaroos, are easily distinguishable from other diprotodont marsupials by their general conformation, and by peculiarities in the structure of their limbs, teeth and other organs. They vary in size from that of a sheep to a small rabbit. The head, especially in the larger species, is small, compared with the rest of the body, and tapers forward to the muzzle. The shoulders and fore-limbs are feebly developed, and the hind-limbs of disproportionate strength and magnitude, which give the animals a peculiarly awkward appearance when moving about on all-fours, as they occasionally do when feeding. Rapid progression is, however, performed only by the powerful hind-limbs, the animals covering the ground by a series of immense bounds, during which the fore part of the body is inclined forwards, and balanced by the long, strong and tapering tail, which is carried horizontally backwards. When not moving, they often assume a perfectly upright position, the tail aiding the two hind-legs to form a tripod, and the front-limbs dangling by the side of the chest. This position gives full scope for the senses of sight, hearing and smell to warn of the approach of enemies. The fore-paws have five digits, each armed with a strong, curved claw. The hind-foot is extremely long, narrow and (except in the musk-kangaroo) without the first toe. It consists mainly of one very large and strong toe, corresponding to the fourth of the human foot, ending in a strong curved and pointed claw (fig. 2). Close to the outer side of this lies a smaller fifth digit, and to the inner side two excessively slender toes (the second and third), bound together almost to the extremity in a common integument. The two little claws of these toes, projecting together from the skin, may be of use in scratching and cleaning the fur of the animal, but the toes must have quite lost all connexion with the functions of support or progression. This type of foot-structure is termed syndactylous.

EB1911 - Kangaroo - Fig. 1.—The Great Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus).jpg
Fig. 1.—The Great Grey Kangaroo (Macropus giganteus).
EB1911 - Kangaroo - Fig. 2.—Skeleton of right hind-foot.jpg
Fig. 2.—Skeleton of right hind-foot
of Kangaroo.

The dental formula, when completely developed, is incisors 3/1, canines 1/0, premolars 3/3, molars 3/3 on each side, giving a total of 34 teeth. The three incisors of the upper jaw are arranged in a continuous arched series, and have crowns with broad cutting edges; the first or middle incisor is often larger than the others. Corresponding to these in the lower jaw is but one tooth on each side, which is of great size, directed horizontally forwards, narrow, lanceolate and pointed with sharp edges. Owing to the slight union of the two halves of the lower jaw in front in many species the two lower incisors work together like the blades of a pair of scissors. The canines are absent or rudimentary in the lower, and often deciduous at an early age in the upper jaw. The first two premolars are compressed, with cutting longitudinal edges, the anterior one is deciduous, being lost about the time the second one replaces the milk-molar, so that three premolars are never found in place and use in the same individual. The last premolar and the molars have quadrate crowns, provided with two strong transverse ridges, or with four obtuse cusps. In Macropus giganteus and its immediate allies, the premolars and sometimes the first molar are shed, so that in old examples only the two posterior molars and the incisors are found in place. The milk-dentition, as in other marsupials, is confined to a single tooth on each side of each jaw, the other molars and incisors being never changed. The dentition of the kangaroos, functionally considered, thus consists of sharp-edged incisors, most developed near the median line of the mouth, for the purpose of cropping herbage, and ridged or tuberculated molars for crushing.

The number of vertebrae is—in the cervical region 7, dorsal 13, lumbar 6, sacral 2, caudal varying according to the length of the tail, but generally from 21 to 25. In the fore-limb the clavicle and the radius and ulna are well developed, allowing of considerable freedom of motion of the fore-paw. The pelvis has large epipubic or “marsupial” bones. The femur is short, and the tibia and fibula of great length, as is the foot, the whole of which is applied to the ground when the animal is at rest in the upright position.

The stomach is large and very complex, its walls being puckered by longitudinal muscular bands into a number of folds. The alimentary canal is long, and the caecum well developed. The young (which, as in other marsupials, leave the uterus in an extremely small and imperfect condition) are placed in the pouch as soon as they are born; and to this they resort temporarily for shelter for some time after they are able to run, jump and feed upon the herbage which forms the nourishment of the parent. During the early period of their sojourn in the pouch, the blind, naked, helpless young creatures (which in the great kangaroo scarcely exceed an inch in length) are attached by their mouths to the nipple of the mother, and are fed by milk injected into their stomach by the contraction of the muscle covering the mammary gland. In this stage of existence the elongated upper part of the larynx projects into the posterior nares, and so maintains a free communication between the lungs and the external surface, independently of the mouth and gullet, thus averting danger of suffocation while the milk is passing down the gullet.

EB1911 - Kangaroo - Fig. 3.—Skull and teeth of Bennett’s Wallaby (Macropus ruficollis bennettii).jpg
Fig. 3.—Skull and teeth of Bennett’s Wallaby (Macropus ruficollis bennettii): i1, i2, i3, first, second and third upper incisors; pm, second premolar (the first having been already shed); m1, m2, m3, m4, last premolar and three molars. The last, not fully developed, is nearly concealed by the ascending part of the lower jaw.

Kangaroos are vegetable-feeders, browsing on grass and various kinds of herbage, but the smaller species also eat roots. They are naturally timid and inoffensive, but the larger kinds when hard pressed will turn and defend themselves, sometimes killing a dog by grasping it in their fore-paws, and inflicting terrible wounds with the sharp claws of their powerful hind-legs, supporting themselves meanwhile upon the tail. The majority are inhabitants of Australia and Tasmania, forming one of the most prominent and characteristic features of the fauna of these lands, and performing the part of the deer and antelopes of other parts of the world. They were important sources of food-supply to the natives, and are hunted by the colonists, both for sport and on account of the damage they do in consuming grass required for cattle and sheep. A few species are found in New Guinea, and the adjacent islands, which belong, in the zoological sense, to the Australian province, beyond the bounds of which none occurs.

The more typical representatives of the group constitute the sub-family Macropodinae, in which the cutting-edges of the upper incisors are nearly level, or the first pair but slightly longer than the others (fig. 3). The canines are rudimentary and often wanting. The molars are usually not longer (from before backwards) than the anterior premolars, and less compressed than in the next section. The crowns of the molars have two prominent transverse ridges. The fore-limbs are small with subequal toes, armed with strong, moderately long, curved claws. Hind-limbs very long and strongly made. Head small, with more or less elongated muzzle. Ears generally rather long and ovate.

The typical genus Macropus, in which the muzzle is generally naked, the ears large, the fur on the nape of the neck usually directed backwards, the claw of the fourth hind-toe very large, and the tail stout and tapering, includes a large number of species. Among these, the great grey kangaroo (M. giganteus, fig. 1) deserves special mention on account of having been discovered during Captain Cook’s first voyage in 1770. The great red kangaroo (M. rufus) is about the same size, while other large species are M. antilopinus and M. robustus. The larger wallabies, or brush-kangaroos, such as the red-necked wallaby (M. ruficollis) constitute a group of smaller-sized species; while the smaller wallabies, such as the filander (q.v.) (M. muelleri) and M. thetidis, constitute yet another section. The genus ranges from the eastern Austro-Malay islands to New Guinea.

Nearly allied are the rock-wallabies of Australia and Tasmania, constituting the genus Petrogale, chiefly distinguished by the thinner tail being more densely haired and terminating in a tuff. Well-known species are P. penicillata, P. xanthopus and P. lateralis. The few species of nail-tailed wallabies, Onychogale, which are confined to the Australian mainland, take their name from the presence of a horny spur at the end of the tail, and are further distinguished by the hairy muzzle. O. unguifer, O. fraenatus and O. lunatus represent the group. The hare-wallabies, such as Lagorchestes leporoides, L. hirsutus and L. consepicillatus, constitute a genus with the same distribution as the last, and likewise with a hairy muzzle, but with a rather short, evenly furred tail, devoid of a spur. They are great leapers and swift runners, mostly frequenting open stony plains.

EB1911 - Kangaroo - Fig. 4.—Skull and teeth of Lesueuir’s Rat-Kangaroo (Bettongia lesueuiri).jpg
Fig. 4.—Skull and teeth of Lesueuir’s Rat-Kangaroo (Bettongia lesueuiri). c, upper canine. Other letters as in fig. 3. The anterior premolar has been shed.

More distinct is the Papuan genus Dorcopsis, as typified by D. muelleri, although it is to some extent connected with Macropus by D. macleyi. The muzzle is naked, the fur on the nape of the neck directed more or less completely forward, and the hind-limbs are less disproportionately elongated. Perhaps, however, the most distinctive feature of the genus is the great fore-and-aft length of the penultimate premolar in both jaws. Other species are D. rufolateralis and D. aurantiacus. In the tree-kangaroos, which include the Papuan Dendrolagus inustus, D. ursinus, D. dorianus, D. benetianus and D. maximus, and the North Queensland D. lumholtzi, the reduction in the length of the hind-limbs is carried to a still further degree, so that the proportions of the fore and hind limbs are almost normal. The genus agrees with Dorcopsis in the direction of the hair on the neck, but the muzzle is only partially hairy, and the elongation of the penultimate premolar is less. These kangaroos are largely arboreal in their habits, but they descend to the ground to feed. Lastly, we have the banded wallaby, Lagostrophus fasciatus, of Western Australia, a small species characterized by its naked muzzle, the presence of long bristles on the hind-feet which conceal the claws, and also of dark transverse bands on the lower part of the back. The skull has a remarkably narrow and pointed muzzle and much inflated auditory bullae; while the two halves of the lower jaw are firmly welded together at their junction, thus effectually preventing the scissor-like action of the lower incisors distinctive of Macropus and its immediate allies. As regards the teeth, canines are wanting, and the penultimate upper premolar is short, from before backwards, with a distinct ledge on the inner side.

In the rat-kangaroos, or kangaroo-rats, as they are called in Australia, constituting the sub-family Potoroinae, the first upper incisor is narrow, curved, and much exceeds the others in length; the upper canines are persistent, flattened, blunt and slightly curved, and the first two premolars of both jaws have large, simple, compressed crowns, with a nearly straight or slightly concave free cutting-edge, and both outer and inner surfaces usually marked by a series of parallel, vertical grooves and ridges. Molars with quadrate crowns and a blunt conical cusp at each corner, the last notably smaller than the rest, sometimes rudimentary or absent. Forefeet narrow; the three middle toes considerably exceeding the first and fifth in length and their claws long, compressed and but slightly curved. Hind-feet as in Macropus. Tail long, and sometimes partially prehensile when it is used for carrying bundles of grass with which these animals build their nests. The group is confined to Australia and Tasmania, and all the species are relatively small.

In the members of the typical genus Potorous (formerly known as Hypsiprymnus) the head is long and slender, with the auditory bullae somewhat swollen; while the ridges on the first two premolars are few and perpendicular, and there are large vacuities on the palate. The tarsus is short and the muzzle naked. The genus includes P. tridactylus, P. gilberti and P. platyops. In Bettongia, on the other hand, the head is shorter and wider, with smaller and more rounded ears, and more swollen auditory bullae. The ridges on the first two premolars are also more numerous and somewhat oblique (fig. 4); the tarsus is long and the tail is prehensile. The species include B. lesueuiri, B. gaimardi and B. cuniculus. The South Australian Caloprymnus campestris represents a genus near akin to the last, but with the edge of the hairy border of the bare muzzle less emarginate in the middle line, still more swollen auditory bullae, very large and posterially expanded nasals and longer vacuities on the palate. The list is completed by Aepyprymnus rufescens, which differs from all the others by the hairy muzzle, and the absence of inflation in the auditory bullae and of vacuities in the palate.

Perhaps, however, the most interesting member of the whole group is the tiny musk-kangaroo (Hypsiprymnodon moschatus) of north-east Australia, which alone represents the sub-family Hypsiprymnodontinae, characterized by the presence of an opposable first toe on the hind-foot and the outward inclination of the penultimate upper premolar, as well by the small and feeble claws. In all these features the musk-kangaroo connects the Macropodidae with the Phalangeridae. The other teeth are like those of the rat-kangaroos.  (W. H. F.; R. L.*)