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Kangaroos are herbivores and, more specifically, folivores. That means they mainly eat the leaves of plants. Considering that kangaroos live in rugged and semi-arid southern Australia, you might wonder if finding food is difficult for them. It helps that kangaroos are grazers who aren't so picky that they only eat one type of leaf. Also, they've been known to travel up to 12 miles to dine on tasty foliage, including the leaves from a few bushes.
Different 'Roos, Different Preferences
There are different types of kangaroos, and among them different types of bushes are preferred. Red kangaroos will eat flat and round-leafed saltbush, but steer toward other types of plants for the rest of their diets. Western grey kangaroos will eat a larger variety of bushes including chenopod shrubs, saltbush and mulga. But eastern grey 'roos are the pickiest of all: they avoid eating bushes and shrubs even during severe dry seasons when little else may be available.
Bush Leaves Provide Moisture
Kangaroos of all types don't require much water to survive. They have a relatively low metabolism, needing only about half as much water as domestic animals like sheep. The water kangaroos take in mostly comes from the vegetation they eat, including the leaves from bushes for those 'roos who dine on the shrubs.
The bushes that kangaroos eat from serve a dual purpose. Not only do some kangaroos eat from saltbushes and mulga, the bushes also help keep them cool in the hot desert temperatures of southern Australia by providing shelter. Kangaroos make the most of the shade that the bushes supply by digging shallow holes beneath them to get to the cool earth under the surface, taking advantage of shade from above and the cooling effects from below.
Not Just Bush-Eaters
Shrubs don't make up the bulk of kangaroos' diets, even among those who eagerly eat from bushes. 'Roos mostly eat grass, supplementing it with the leaves from various plants. And the amounts and types of vegetation that kangaroos eat change with the seasons. Grass makes up the main part of kangaroos' food during severely dry, drought conditions, but shrubs and bushes are preferred among those who eat them when the weather is less severe. Leaves of all types are the preferred food source when the weather turns rainy and the plants flourish, providing plentiful meal choices.
- Life of Marsupials; Edited by Hugh Tyndale-Biscoe
- Animal Diversity Web: Western Grey Kangaroo
- San Diego Zoo: Red Kangaroo
- National Wildlife Federation: Red Kangaroos
- Kangaroos in Australian Rangelands; A.C. Grice and R. F. Beck
- Landscape Ecology And Geographical Information Systems; Edited by R. Haines-Young, et al.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images