Wallaby What is a Wallaby?

wallaby hopping

Photo: Wallaby hopping


Wallabies are small to medium-sized hopping marsupials that live in Australia and New Guinea. They have an upright posture supported by two disproportionately large hind legs and feet, small forelimbs and a large thick tail. Using hopping as their primary mode of locomotion, a large wallaby can easily cruise along at 25km/h and reach a maximum speed of 48 km/h.

There are 30 different types of wallaby. They are broadly classified by the habitat in which they live. These are the rock wallaby, bush wallaby and shrub wallaby. Some are also named based on their size and appearance—for example, the hare wallaby.

A male wallaby is called a jack
A female wallaby is called a jill
A baby wallaby is called a joey

• Differences Between a Wallaby and Kangaroo


Wallaby - Description What Do Wallabies Look Like?

Photo: Wallaby face

Depending on the species wallabies can vary in size from 1.8 meters to just 30 centimetres from head to tail. They can weigh between 1 to 20 kilos.

A wallaby's eyes are located high on its skull and provide it with a 324° field of vision with a 25° overlap (humans have a 180° vision with 120° overlap). Its eyesight has a sensitivity comparable with that of rabbits, cattle or horses. Wallabies have large pointed ears which can swivel independently of each other through 180°.

Because the wallaby feeds mostly on leaves and doesn't need to nip off grass like a kangaroo, the wallaby's front incisors are much smaller than those of a kangaroo. But because it needs to crush and grind these leaves, it has flat teeth more suitable for grinding. The wallaby replaces its teeth throughout its life. New teeth grow at the rear of its mouth and slowly move forward replacing those in front which have been worn down or damaged.

The wallaby has short small forelimbs with hands-on which there are five-clawed fingers. These hands are used primarily for grasping and pulling down branches, fighting and grooming. They are also used for pentalpedaling (crawl-walking). The wallaby has an unusual way of keeping cool. It licks its forelimbs covering them with saliva, and as the saliva evaporates, it helps to cool its body.

Photo: Wallaby using its tail as a tripod

Wallaby Sound (Vocalisation)

Wallabies have tiny almost non-existence vocal cords. For this reason, they have a minimal range of vocal sounds. A mother communicates with her offspring with clicking sounds. An alarmed wallaby may hiss and growl. A wallaby may display aggression by making a "ha" sound. A male wallaby may also make a chuckling sound during courtship.

The wallaby uses its powerful hind legs for hopping, its primary means of locomotion. It has extraordinarily large and long Achilles tendons that store elastic energy used to assist it in hopping. The wallaby has long, narrow feet with four toes each. Its feet have a soft pad that runs all the way up to the heel.

The first toe no longer plays any significant role. The second toe is large and strong with a massive claw. It is used to provide traction when hopping. The third and fourth toes are fused, covered by skin, but still have two small claws. The wallaby used these two smaller toes for grooming.

While highly efficient at higher speeds, the wallaby's hind legs are ineffective at low speeds and hardly used. It uses pentapedaling locomotion at slow speeds. The wallaby also uses its feet as an alarm by 'foot thumping' one or both of its feet. It is not certain if this behaviour is to alert other wallabies of danger or as a warning to a predator to stay away, or both.

The wallaby's large thick tail serves several purposes. Without it, a wallaby wouldn't be able to stand up, hop or move at slow speeds. It is also where a wallaby stores excess fat for use in times of hardship. When a wallaby stands, its tail acts as the third point of a tripod and prevents it from toppling over backwards. The tail also serves a similar purpose when a wallaby springs up from a standstill position. While hopping, the tail acts are a counterbalance to its body, preventing the wallaby from tipping forward. At slow speeds, the tail is a vital part of its pentapedaling movement. The wallaby also stands up on its tail when it is fighting.

Beings a marsupial mammal, the female wallaby raises its offspring in a pouch and feeds it milk. The pouch is located on its abdomen. A young wallaby, which is born very immature, crawls up from the mother's birth canal to the pouch where it attaches itself to a nipple and remains for over four months before it ventures out. Even adolescent wallabies will hop back into their mother's pouch when frightened. Male wallabies don't have pouches.

25 Wallaby Facts

  1. There are 30 types of wallabies.
  2. Most are grouped and named according to where they live.
  3. Wallabies are similar in appearance to a kangaroo but are smaller and live in forested areas.
  4. They can weigh between 1-20 kilos.
  5. A large wallaby can cruise at 25 kph and reach a maximum speed of 48 kph.
  6. Its eyesight has a sensitivity comparable with that of rabbits, cattle or horses.
  7. It replaces its teeth throughout its life.
  8. New teeth grow at the back and move forward to replace those in the front.
  9. To keep cool, the wallaby covers its forearms with saliva. The evaporating saliva helps cool its body.
  10. Wallabies have almost non-existence vocal cords and communicated by clicking and foot thumping.
  1. A wallaby has five legs! That’s if you include its tail which it uses like a leg at slow speeds.
  2. It also uses its tail like a tripod to prevent itself from toppling over backwards.
  3. When hopping, its tail counterbalances its body, preventing it from falling forward.
  4. The wallaby cannot move backwards.
  5. A large wallaby can jump as high as three meters.
  6. Wallabies mostly eat leaves, flowers, ferns, moss and even insects.
  7. They are active mostly at night.
  8. Wallabies do eco-friendly farts with almost no methane (Ch4) gas.
  9. A wallaby gets most of its moisture from its food. It can survive for months without drinking water.
  10. A wallaby requires only 13% of the water needed by a similar-sized sheep.
  11. A baby wallaby is no larger than a jelly-bean when born.
  12. The female wallaby raises its baby in a pouch outside its body and feeds it milk.
  13. Contrary to popular folklore, a wallaby doesn't box like humans do.
  14. A wallaby can swim.
  15. Wallabies are quite common. The rock wallaby, however, is endangered.

Wallaby - Habitat Where Do Wallabies Live?

Wallabies are found throughout Australia and parts of New Guinea. Depending on the species, they prefer heavily wooded and rugged areas. Very few wallabies live in the arid interior of the continent.

Rock wallabies live in boulder-strewn areas with subterranean holes and passageways, cliffs with ledges and caves, and isolated rock stacks.

Agile wallabies live in northern Australia and New Guinea. Its typical habitat is dry open woodland, heaths, dunes and grassland.


Wallaby - Diet What Do a Wallabies Eat?

Photo: Wallaby eating leaves

Wallabies eat mostly leaves, but they also eat flowers, ferns, moss and even insects. They prefer to feed at night but also graze early in the morning and late evening when it's cool. They rest in the shade during the day.

The Wallaby has a chambered stomach similar to that of a horse. Its U-shaped fore-stomach helps it digest fibrous plant material. The wallaby regurgitates its food, chews it again and swallows it (chews the cud). This extra munching breaks down the rough fibres of their diet and greatly improves its digestion.

The Wallaby is well adapted to the dry, hot Australian climate. It needs very little water, extracting moisture it needs from its food. A wallaby requires only 13% of the water required by a sheep. It can survive for months without drinking.

Wallabies also have an excellent sense of the weather and have been known to detect rainfall as far as 20 kilometres away and head towards it.


Wallabies do Environmentally Friendly Farts

A wallaby produces almost no methane (Ch4) gas which is produced in large quantities by cattle and sheep. The wallaby's digestive system converts the hydrogen by-products of digestion to acetate, which is then absorbed and used to provide energy. The wallaby releases carbon dioxide (CO2) instead, which is 23 times less harmful to the environment than methane.


Wallaby Reproduction & Life Cycle Baby Wallaby

Photo: Wallaby female with a joey in its pouch

A baby wallaby is no larger than a jelly-bean (2cm) and weighs as little as one gram. By comparison a human baby is about 3,500 times larger! The reason for this is because wallabies belong to a group of animals known as marsupials. Marsupial babies have two stages of development. One inside the mother like placental mammals such as humans and the other outside the mother’s body in a special external pouch called a marsupium. Hence the name marsupial. A baby wallaby is called a joey.

Stage 1 – A wallaby joey is born approximately 30 days after gestation. No larger than a jelly-bean (2 cm), it emerges from its mother’s birth canal blind, hairless, with stumpy forelimb and hardly any trace of its hind legs. Using its little forelimbs in a swimming (breaststroke) motion, the young joey crawls laboriously up its mother's fur to the pouch. This journey takes it about three minutes. The joey's journey is made entirely by itself. The mother does not assist it in any way.

Joey Crawling to Pouch Video

Video: Baby joey crawling to the pouch

Stage 2 – Once inside its mother's pouch, the joey quickly attaches itself firmly to one of four nipples in the pouch. Once it has attached itself to its mother's nipple, the young joey will stay hidden for up to six and a half months. Then it will start to tentatively pop its head out of its mother's pouch and observe the world around it. About two weeks later, it will have gained enough confidence to venture out of the pouch and hop about close to its mother. However, if frightened, it will immediately jump back into the safety of the pouch. By the time it is about 8 months old, the joey no longer uses its mother's pouch.
Wallabies live for 6 to 15 years.

Wallabies live for 6 to 15 years.

Wallaby Reproduction?


How Does a Wallaby Move? Wallabies Hop and Jump

As with all macropods, wallabies have powerful hind legs and large feet specially designed for hopping. It has perfected this mode of locomotion to make it one of the fastest and most efficient methods of travelling over the vast distances the animal travels in search of food.

A wallaby's legs have muscles just like all other animals. The difference is that it has evolved a very efficient and different means of moving around. It hops instead of walking. It is the only large animal that uses this method of locomotion. The wallaby's legs are specially designed for this purpose. Because of the unusual shape of these legs and its bulky tail, a wallaby can't walk.

about 20-25 km/h. It can also speed away at over 70km/h and leap over 3-meter obstacles when required. These wallabies have been recorded travelling up to 20 kilometres at speeds of 40km/h without stopping for a rest. A single hop from a wallaby can cover up to 8 meters! A human stride is only about 1 meter. Even an elephant can only manage about 2.5 meters.

A Wallaby's legs look like powerful compression springs at work. When it hops its legs compress, bringing its toes towards its body. This looks like a spring being compressed. Then its toes move away from its body and its bounces up like a spring being released. The concept is similar to how a Pogo Stick works.

The actual mechanics are not what it seems. In fact, the wallaby gets its bounce from its Achilles tendons and ligaments in the back of its legs which store and return energy with each hop. These act like giant stretching and shrinking rubber bands. When its legs compress, its tendons get stretched. The energy stored in the stretched tendon is referred to as elastic potential energy, and contracting muscles start pulling the bottom part of the leg downwards giving the animal a springing bounce back into the air. In this way, a wallaby uses very little energy to move itself about.

Scientists suggest that the red wallaby has the most efficient method of locomotion of any ground animal in the world. As it travels faster and faster, it uses less and less energy. At speeds above 18kph, a hopping wallaby uses less energy than any other animal of equal weight. If a foxhound were to chase a wallaby, it would consume twice as much energy as the wallaby and tire out in less than 2 kilometres. The wallaby, on the other hand, could go another 20 kilometres and still seems as fresh as when it started.

Wallabies move extremely quietly compared to other animals. You would hardly notice a mob of wallabies whooshing silently past you at top speed. An equivalent number of deer, which are similar in body sizes, would create quite a loud racket. The reason for this is the wallaby's soft padded feet, relatively small footprint and the fact the only two feet touch the ground.

Wallabies increase their speed by increasing the length of their hops, not the frequency of hops. When it wants to go slow, it takes small hops. When it wants to go fast, it takes giant hops. (Most other animals increase the speed of each step, with only a minimal increase in their stride.)

The fastest wallaby is the red wallaby. It has been recorded at speeds of up to 60kph. At this speed, each of its "strides" is as much as 8 meters apart. (The record is an astonishing 13 meters). Because hopping is super-efficient, it can also maintain this speed for a long time without exhausting itself.

Because the wallaby uses bi-pedal (two legs like humans) locomotion, it can easily pivot on one foot and rapidly change direction. It is claimed that it can make a 180-degree turn in a single hop. Four-legged animals with their relatively long bodies cannot turn as rapidly.

A wallaby can make very limited hops backwards when fighting. It cannot, however, actually do so as a means of locomotion.

A Wallaby cannot walk forward or backwards by moving its legs independently. The wallaby can, however, actually move its legs independently it just can't do so for walking.

Did You Know

The largest non-marsupial animal to hop is the rabbit, which hops using all four legs.

A wallaby can move its legs independently when required. When hopping wallabies usually move both hind legs together. The independent movement of its legs occur when the animal is turning while it is hopping, when it places one leg slightly in front of the other to execute a turn. It also moves its legs independently when it uses its feet in 'foot thumping' to warn other wallabies of danger and when swimming.

The red wallaby holds the high jump record. It can jump as high as three meters.

At low speeds, however, a wallaby is far less agile. Its super-efficient hopping legs let it down. (See next section to learn how a wallaby moves at slow speeds).


Does the Wallaby have an Extra Leg? Wallaby - Slow Speed Locomotion

Despite the wallaby's reputation for gracefully hopping through the landscape, it actually spends more time moving at a more leisurely pace of about 6 kilometres an hour as it feeds and socialises with other wallabies. At this speed, its movements are ungainly indeed. While highly efficient at higher speeds, a wallaby's hind legs are cumbersome and almost useless at lower speeds. The wallaby has adapted to this shortcoming by developing a fifth leg! Where is it, you wonder? It's the wallaby's tail.

A wallaby moves at low speeds by leaning forward onto its short front limbs, hoisting itself up with its tail and then shifting its hind legs forward. This method of movement is called 'pentapedal' (four limbs + tail) locomotion. Recent research has shown that the wallaby's tail with its 20 vertebrae acts like a fifth limb fulfilling the role of a normal leg. In this role, it is capable of generating more forward force than all of the wallaby's other limbs combined.


Wallabies Fighting Wallabies Boxing?

Wallabies fight less than most other types of herbivores. A male wallaby fights by kicking its opponent with its powerful hind legs and hitting with its front paws (which have sharp claws). These fights usually occur over mating rights and are more ritualistic than aggressive. Very rarely do wallabies hurt each other during fights.

Contrary to popular folklore, a wallaby doesn't box like humans do.


Wallabies Can Swim They are Good Swimmers

Wallabies usually live in relatively dry areas with few large bodies of water. Oddly, however, they are very confident in water and are good swimmers. There are reports of numerous sightings of wallabies swimming far out at sea.

The wallaby swims by 'dog-paddling' with all four limbs. While it moves its rear legs in unison when it hops, while swimming its moves them independently.


Are Wallabies Nocturnal? When are Wallabies Active?

Wallabies are categorised and being nocturnal animals. That is, they are active mainly at night. Strictly speaking, however, this is not entirely correct. A more accurate definition of wallaby activity is that they are primarily crepuscular. That is; that they are most active around dawn and dusk, and this activity can continue into the night. Wallabies usually rest during the day, but it is not uncommon the see a mob of wallabies moving through the countryside during the daytime.


Wallaby - Threats & Predators What Kills Wallabies?

The only native predator of adult wallabies is the Tasmanian Devil. Baby wallabies, however, fall victim to goannas — native monitor lizards, snakes and wedge-tailed eagles.

Aborigines have been hunting wallabies since they arrived in Australia about 50,000 years ago. They have had little impact on the overall survival of the wallaby population. Since the arrival of European settlers in 1778 humans have had a more considerable effect on as a result of, farming, grazing, land clearing and forest felling. While some wallaby species have been impacted and may even become extinct, the overall wallaby population does not seem to have been seriously affected by these activities. One of the most significant impacts of modern humans appears to be the result of road kills.

Several introduced animals such as dingoesfoxesferal cats and dogs are known to attack wallabies.


Wallaby - Conservation Status Are Wallabies Endangered?

Many wallaby species are quite prolific and therefore not threatened. But some, such as certain species of the rock wallaby, are considered to be endangered.