Let’s meet the macropods: kangaroos, wallabies, and their relatives. What’s the difference between a kangaroo and a wallaby? Those two terms aren’t scientific classifications, they are common names. In general, the term “kangaroo” refers to large macropods and “wallaby” refers to small and medium macropods—but some go by other names, too.
Kangaroos are the largest macropods, and probably the most widely known. There are three species, and one—the red kangaroo—is more closely related to the wallaroos than it is
to the other two kangaroo species.
1. Petite forelimbs
In most macropod species, forelimbs are small compared to the hind limbs. Each digit has a thick claw.
2. Cozy pouch
Like most other female marsupials, female kangaroos and their relatives all have pouches for holding a developing baby, called a joey.
3. The real bigfoot
The term “macropod” comes from the Greek macro for “big” and pod for “foot.” It’s not hard to see how they got this name. In fact, the entire pelvic and hind limb region is large and muscular. This powers a macropod’s characteristic mode of locomotion: hopping.
4. Tale of a tail
Many species use their long, thick tail as a convenient “fifth leg” when walking, or for propping themselves while standing.
The term “wallaroo” refers to any of three species of largish macropods that are closely related to the red kangaroo.
Compared to its ground-living relatives, a tree kangaroo’s hind limbs are somewhat reduced, and its front limbs are long and strong. All 10 species of tree kangaroos are adapted for spending their lives in trees, and having limbs that are about the same size and strength makes them good climbers. Their feet have a greater range of motion than in other macropods, too.
Did you know?: In the tree kangaroos, a tail is important for balance, and it may be as much as 20 percent longer than the combined head-body length.
“Wallaby” is a general term for about 36 species of small and medium-sized macropods. There are several kinds of wallabies, including rock wallabies, hare wallabies, nail-tailed wallabies, forest wallabies, and one species of swamp wallaby.
“Pademelon” refers to six species of small, forest-dwelling wallabies. The name is derived from the Dharug word badilmaliyan. (Dharug is one of Australia‘s aboriginal languages).
Did you know? A newborn joey is embryo-like and smaller than your earlobe. At birth, it crawls, unaided, into its mother‘s pouch and seals its lips around a teat. Firmly attached, it suckles continuously for the first few months of life.
Although it is a macropod too, a little quokka doesn’t look much like a wallaby or a kangaroo. It often bounds about on all fours instead of hopping. The word quokka comes from Australia’s aboriginal Nyungar language group.