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Wallabies and wallaroos are types of macropods, a family name that means "big foot." You'll immediately recognize these marsupials for their powerful back legs and large back feet, which they use to move about by hopping and leaping. Well known as Australian natives, some species also live in Papua New Guinea and other islands surrounding the Australian mainland. While wallabies and wallaroos are both herbivores and occupy similar ecological niches, there are also many differences between these two types of animals.
Diversity of Species
Perhaps one of the greatest differences between wallabies and wallaroos lies in the number of species of each type of animal. Only three wallaroo species in one genus live in Australia: black wallaroos (Macropus bernardus), antilopine wallaroos (Macropus antilopinus) and common wallaroos (Macropus robustus). In contrast, there are over 30 wallaby species across seven genera. Wallaby species include the swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor), which is genetically distinct from all other macropods, and nail-tailed wallabies, named for the sharp nail at the end of their tails. Rock wallabies are the most numerous type of wallabies, with at least 16 species.
Size is the biggest physical distinction between wallabies and wallaroos. Wallaroos range from 3 feet tall and around 50 pounds to over 5 feet tall and more than 120 pounds. Wallabies are much smaller, typically between 12 and 20 inches tall and weighing between 10 and 15 pounds. Other differences vary amongst the species. For example, common wallaroos have shorter limbs than any other macropods, which is believed to give them greater agility in the rocky, mountainous areas where they live. Rock wallabies deal with rocky terrain in a different way, with special pads on their feet adapted to grip rocks rather than push off dirt to jump as other macropods do.
Various species of wallabies live in nearly every region and habitat in mainland Australia and some outlying islands. However, because many species are specially adapted for particular habitats, as rock wallabies are for rocky hills and mountains, individual species typically inhabit particular regions and few are widespread. Two wallaroo species make their homes in the Northern Territory, while the common wallaroo lives throughout mainland Australia. Neither wallabies nor wallaroos live in Tasmania. The six species of forest wallabies are found exclusively on the islands of Papua New Guinea.
None of the three wallaroo species is considered threatened or endangered. There are, however, at least 11 wallaby species listed as threatened or endangered. Habitat destruction is the greatest threat for the survival of many wallaby populations, but due to their smaller size they also face danger from predation. Dingos, foxes and other invasive species frequently kill wallabies. Since the European settlement of Australia, at least four wallaby species have become extinct, mostly as a result of habitat destruction and overhunting. The parma wallaby was once thought extinct, but a thriving population was discovered that had been introduced to a New Zealand island.
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Animal Diversity Web: Macropodinae -- Classification
- Kangaroo Footprints: Species
- Australian Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities: Fauna of Australia -- Macropodidae
- ARKive: Common Wallaroo
- Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Antilopine Wallaroo (Macropus Antilopinus)
- WWF: Rock Wallaby
- Tom Brakefield/Stockbyte/Getty Images