The Diet of Kangaroos
Kangaroos are one of the most charismatic species found in Australia. In fact, they’re a unique group of mammals in the animal kingdom, as they have a marsupium that serves to protect their young while they grow. Besides, kangaroos are distributed in arid and dry areas, so they’ve developed certain strategies to facilitate their feeding. These animals are classified as marsupials, a taxon that also includes the wallaby and the wallaroo. To avoid confusion, in this article, we’ll talk about the 3 most known species of kangaroos: The red(Macropus rufus), the eastern grey(Macropus giganteus), and the western grey (Macropus fuliginosus). Keep reading to learn more about the diet of kangaroos.
Kangaroos reach a height of about 5 feet, 3 inches, while their tail alone is another 4 feet long. Thanks to this large size, they’re recognized as one of the largest marsupials in existence. In addition, they have strong and huge legs that allow them to move by jumping through their habitat.
These mammals have a soft and plush fur that usually has gray, brown, and beige colors. This coloration is lighter on their abdominal region and darker on their back. This characteristic can vary a little depending on the locality and the time of the year, as the specimens reduce the density of their fur to better resist the high temperatures.
The kangaroo has smaller front legs than the hind legs, which it uses in a similar way to human hands. However, these limbs have claws on each of their toes. This allows it to use them to dig for food or water.
The diet of kangaroos?
Kangaroos are herbivorous animals that specialize in eating grasses and small plants. In general, they can digest a large amount of shrubby or arboreal foliage, provided only that it’s green. They do this to ensure that their food also contains a certain amount of water. Thanks to this, they hydrate themselves at the same time as they feed.
These animals are used to “grazing” on the extensive plains of their territory. However, they also actively forage for specific plants (such as succulents, buds, goosefoots, and lilies) to supplement their diet. The western grey kangaroo also consumes poisonous shrubs, as it has the ability to resist the effects of certain plant toxins, such as fluoroacetate.
The diet of kangaroos includes the vegetation available in most of the green grasslands in their habitat, but they’re not restricted to this area. Their adaptability causes these marsupials to invade human crops as well. Therefore, some people consider them to be pests and hunt them to protect crops.
The difficult task of digesting plants
Herbivores need certain adaptations to be able to digest the plants they eat. This is because plant species have cells that are resistant to digestion. For this reason, some animals such as ruminants grind their food for a long time to get the nutrients from the plant.
This is also true for kangaroos, as their bodies have adapted to get the most out of their diet. For starters, the teeth of these animals have several flattened premolars in order to better grind the leaves. In addition, the molars exhibit irregular shapes that allow them to cut into the stems of grasses.
The role of the stomach
Excellent grinding of food greatly aids in the digestion of vegetables. However, in order to make the process more efficient, the digestive system must also present certain changes. In the case of kangaroos, this modification is found in their stomach, which is divided into several chambers (like that of some ruminants).
These marsupials use a fermentation process whose function is to pre-digest the plants they eat. To do this, the stomach chambers store certain bacteria that are harmless to the kangaroo, which begin to degrade the food as it enters the stomach. This way, the food is broken down quickly and its nutrients are better assimilated.
The impact of kangaroo food
As you can see, kangaroos have a huge and efficient body that’s adapted to their herbivorous diet. Thanks to this, they not only take advantage of all the nutrients that plants can offer them, but they can also resist some of their toxins. Consequently, they’re considered adaptable animals that feed easily on various types of plant species.
Although this seems positive, the reality is that they’re capable of becoming a problem for livestock and agriculture. This is because the cultivated areas also serve as their food source and cause economic losses to the population. Also, the kangaroo competes for grazing with livestock, which becomes a dilemma for farmers.
To make matters worse, the population of kangaroos has increased in recent decades, which has increased public discontent. As a result, the Australian government has had to establish laws to control and protect them. Thanks to this, the negative impacts have been greatly reduced without compromising the stability of the species.
Kangaroos are one of the most charismatic animals in existence, but their great efficiency in feeding makes them a latent ecological danger. This doesn’t mean that they should be eradicated, as eliminating them could only lead to another imbalance in natural interactions. It’s better to find a balance in which we can coexist well with the species.It might interest you...