Learn About Tree Kangaroos
Scientific Name: Dendrolagus ursinus
Tree-kangaroos are macropods adapted for life in trees. They are found in the rainforests of New Guinea, far northeastern Queensland, and nearby islands, usually in mountainous areas. Although most are found in mountainous areas, several species also occur in lowlands, such as the aptly named Lowlands Tree-kangaroo.
It is understood that tree-kangaroos evolved from creatures similar to
modern kangaroos and wallabies, as they retain many standard macropod
adaptations to life in the plains—notably the massive hind legs and
long, narrow feet which allow orthodox macropods to travel fast and
economically on the ground. Tree-kangaroos have developed
exceptionally long tails for balance, and stronger forelimbs for
climbing. The feet are shorter and wider, they have longer claws on
all feet, and rubbery soles for better grip.
The ancestors of all kangaroos are believed to have been small arboreal marsupials that looked like some of Australia's present-day possums. The earliest macropods diverged from this line when they descended to the ground and evolved bodies adapted for rapid motion over the earth and rocks. Why the ancestors of the tree-kangaroos returned to the trees is not known.
Tree-kangaroos are slow and clumsy on the ground. They move at about walking pace and hop awkwardly, leaning their body far forward to balance the heavy tail. But in trees they are bold and agile. They climb by wrapping the forelimbs around the trunk of a tree and hopping with the powerful hind legs, allowing the forelimbs to slide. They are expert leapers; 9-metre (29.5 feet) downward jumps from one tree to another have been recorded, and they have the extraordinary ability to jump to the ground from 18 metres (59.0 feet) or more without being hurt.
Tree-kangaroos feed mostly on leaves and fruit, taken both in trees and on the ground, but other foods are eaten when available, including grain, flowers, sap, bark, eggs and young birds. Their teeth are adapted for tearing leaves rather than cutting grass. They have large stomachs that function as fermentation vats in a manner similar to those of eutherian ruminant herbivores, in which bacteria break down fibrous leaves and grasses. Although the arrangement of the stomach compartments in kangaroos is quite different than eutherian ruminants, the end result is similar.
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