by Kathy Kranking
It might look as if this kangaroo made w-a-a-y too high a hop. But guess what? It's a tree kangaroo. And it's right at home up a tree.
Tree kangaroos are relatives of regular kangaroos. But they look quite different from them. They have longer front legs, shorter hind legs, longer tails, and long claws for climbing. And, or course, you will have to look up to see them!
You might be surprised to learn that, millions of years ago, all kangaroo ancestors lived in trees. But for some reason—after a long, long time—they climbed down and became ground kangaroos. Then, millions of years later, some of these ground roos hopped back up into the trees again. This time they stayed there. And over millions more years, they became the tree kangaroos of today.
NOT JUST ANYWHERE
You won't find any tree kangaroos climbing around in your neighborhood. They live in rainforests in only two places in the world: northeastern Australia and New Guinea.
There are at least 11 different species of tree kangaroos. The smallest is a little bit bigger than a raccoon. And the biggest is about the size of a medium-sized dog.
AT EASE IN THE TREES
Tree kangaroos are well built for the tree-climbing life. They have strong legs for leaping from trees to the ground. Rough pads on their hands and feet give them a non-slip grip when they're climbing. And long, curved claws help them hang on.
As a roo climbs around, it often presses its tail against branches for balance. But tree kangaroos can't curl their tails around branches to hang on the way some monkeys can.
Most kinds of tree kangaroos spend almost all their time in the trees. But some will sometimes climb down to the ground to look for food. Tree roos spend a lot of time eating. They love leaves but also eat other plant parts, such as fruit or bark.
When they're not eating, tree kangaroos have a pretty lazy lifestyle. Better than anything else, roos like to snooze! Any time of day and many times a day, that's what they're doing. They don't use a nest for napping or have a regular sleeping place. Any fork in a tree will do for a sleepy roo.
BIG JOB FOR JOEY
Most grown-up tree kangaroos like to hang out by themselves rather than with other tree kangaroos. But baby tree roos, called joeys, spend all their time hanging out with their moms.
Like a ground kangaroo joey, a tree kangaroo baby grows up inside a pouch on its mom's belly. A newborn tree roo is only about the size of a jellybean. But as soon as it's born, this tiny joey has a big job ahead of it. It has to crawl up its mom's belly to find the opening of her pouch. And it does this before its eyes have even opened!
Once the joey is inside the pouch, it must find a nipple to nurse from. After that, the joey's life gets much easier. For the next three months, it stays safe and warm in the pouch, nursing non-stop and growing bigger and bigger each day.
Most tree roos usually have just one joey at a time, so a baby roo doesn't have to share its pouch with "roo-mates." After many months of growing inside the pouch, the joey begins peeking out. Soon it starts leaving the pouch to explore but crawls back in to nurse and sleep.
When the time is finally right, the joey leaves the pouch for good. But it will still stay with its mom for many more months. After that, it will be on its own—snoozing, snacking, leaping—and loving life up a tree.
We thank Dr. Lisa Dabek for her help with this article. For more information, visit zoo.org/treekangaroo online.
"Look Who's Up a Tree!" originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Ranger Rick magazine. Click here to download a pdf of the article.