Learning Through Science - An Amazing Animal

by Mary Beth Lott

Can you solve this riddle?
What stands up like a man, has a head like a deer, hops like a frog, and sometimes has two heads?  When Europeans first heard explorers tell about this unusual creature, they were skeptical.  However, people the world over now know and love the kangaroo.
Where are kangaroos found?
Kangaroos are native to the continent of Australia.  Much of Australia is desert.  The climate can change quickly, and the dry land grows little vegetation.  Kangaroos, however, are well suited to this inhospitable environment.
How do kangaroos move?
Kangaroos are the only large animals that move around by hopping.  Their bodies are designed to help them quickly cover long distances when searching for food and water.    Kangaroos have powerful hind legs, large feet, and a long muscular tail which helps them balance.  With this “equipment,” it is possible for a kangaroo to travel at 40 kilometers per hour or more.  However, because of its long feet, the kangaroo can’t walk normally at slow speeds.  It must crawl using its arms and feet. 

What do kangaroos eat?
The kangaroo’s diet is grass and roots.  Different kangaroos prefer different kinds of grass.  Red kangaroos live in the desert and like the dry grasses found there.  Grey kangaroos live in wooded areas and enjoy the juicy grasses found in the woodlands.  In dry weather, all kangaroos hold food in their digestive system for a longer period of time to absorb the last bits of moisture.

What is special about baby kangaroos?
Kangaroos have another special ability which helps them to live in a dry environment.  The female kangaroo will not become pregnant unless there has been enough rain for green grass to grow.  Her baby, called a joey, is born after 31-36 days.  The joey then lives in the mother’s pouch for about nine months.

While the joey is in the pouch, the mother can again become pregnant and give birth to another baby.  The mother can produce two different kinds of milk, one for the joey in the pouch and one for the newborn.  If there is drought and little food while the mother is pregnant, her body will temporarily stop the development of the new baby.  Later, when there is enough food and water, the new joey will again start to develop and be born as a healthy baby kangaroo.  Amazing! 

Fun Fact:  Male kangaroos often play by boxing with each other. 

Comprehension Questions
  1. What kind of environment do kangaroos live in?
  2. Why do kangaroos need to travel over long distances?  What helps them do this quickly?
  3. What do kangaroos eat?  How does the kangaroo’s body help it get moisture during dry weather?
  4. Where does the joey live after it is born?
  5. How does the mother feed the joey and the newborn?
Deeper Thought Questions
  1. The kangaroo is a very strange animal!  If you had lived during the days of the early explorers, would you have believed their stories of such a beast? 
  2. The kangaroo’s features are strange, but they are all useful.  The clumsy feet help the animal hop long distances to find food.  The pouch shelters the joey.  If you were creating an animal, would you have thought of these things?
Something to do
  1. TPR Time. Act out the verbs in the article: stand, hop, search, balance, crawl, box
  2. Name another animal that moves by hopping. 
  3. Compare the kangaroo with animals that live in the Mongolian desert.  What special features do these animals have that help them survive?  Are they similar to the kangaroo or different?
  4. Just for fun, do the “kangaroo hop.”  How far could you travel by hopping? 

  • skeptical- disbelieving
  • inhospitable- uninviting; an  unfriendly place
  • hind- back; rear
  • absorb- to take in
  • moisture- small drops of water
  • pouch- pocket of skin on the mother kangaroo
  • drought- time when there is no rain

Answers to Comprehension Questions: 
  1. Mostly dry although some kangaroos live in wooded areas. 
  2. To search for food and water.  Their powerful hind legs, large feet, and muscular tails help them hop quickly over long distances. 
  3. Grass and roots.  In dry weather, all kangaroos hold food in their digestive system for a longer period of time to absorb the last bits of moisture.
  4. In the mother kangaroo’s pouch.
  5. The mother’s body makes two different kinds of milk. 

Reference:  Wikipedia
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net