Its #EasternGreyKangaroo week! Watching, and walking with these beautiful animals – in the wild – is something we never tire of.
The social interaction of kangaroos is fascinating to watch. Mothers and female joeys have a deep, strong bond, which they maintain even into adulthood. Most females stay with their mothers their whole lives.
Eastern Grey Kangaroo joeys stay in the pouch for about a year, which is much longer than other types of kangaroos. For the first five months, the joey is small, has no fur and cannot be seen from the outside except as a bulging pouch. At around six months the joey has developed a light coat of fur, and starts to poke its head out of the pouch for short periods.
At 9 to 10 months, an Eastern Grey joey takes its first journey outside of the pouch. The first time is usually an accident: joey falls out while mum’s pouch is loose. In shock, joey usually clambers straight back in to the safety and warmth!
Over the next 2 to 3 months, joey takes more and longer trips out of the pouch. Even with experience, though, getting back into the pouch can be complicated – watch this terrific little video to see how: https://youtu.be/pAnSftUVvoA
Mother kangaroos have a lot of control over their pouch – they can relax or contract the muscles around the pouch, and by standing up or leaning over they can control joey’s access to the pouch. If a mother wants to encourage her 9 month old joey to take their first steps outside, she will let her pouch muscles relax and lean over, allowing joey to tumble out. If she then stands up and contracts the pouch muscles, joey cannot get back in, no matter how hard they try. If there’s danger she will quickly lean forward, relax the pouch, and call to the joey, who immediately rushes back in.
One day when joey is about 11 – 12 months old, mother kangaroo will decide that its time for joey to vacate the pouch permanently. Next time joey is out, mum simply stands up, closes her pouch and that’s it. No more pouch for joey! Joey never seems happy about this arrangement, and will clutch at the pouch repeatedly, trying to get in. But mum must stay firm – she often has another joey ready to be born, and she can’t have two in the same pouch!
Eastern Greys nurse their joeys until they are 18 months old. For the first 9 months, suckling happens when the baby’s whole body is in the pouch. After final pouch exit at 11 – 12 months, joey suckles by putting just their head into the pouch.
Easy guide to age Eastern Grey joeys seen in the wild:
- Joey’s head out of pouch: joey is between 6 months and 12 months
- Joey gets in or out of pouch: joey is between 9 months and 12 months
- Joey is outside, putting head in pouch: joey is between 9 months and 18 months.
Watch out next week for one of our favourite Aussie birds – the famous kookaburra! #LaughingKookaburra week!
Dawson, Terence J. “Kangaroos: Biology of the Largest Marsupials” 1998 pp 78-83