It’s opportunistic breeding time, folks! No, not you, gentle readers, unless you are so inclined – but our local wallabies.
Kangaroos, wallabies and pademelons are classified scientifically as macropods, meaning ‘big foot’. On our property we have three macropod species that I am aware of: the red-necked wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus, below), the swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) and the red-necked pademelon (Thylogale thetis).
It’s been wet a lot (we luckily missed out on the super-drenching that Queensland and Victoria got) and warm, so the bigfoots are getting frisky. The males are out sniffing around the females. Two males can get quite competitive, chasing each other around and thumping each other violently in the chest with their paws and feet. One eventually gives up and moves off.
One night we heard scuffles at the front of the house, and went out to see two males going at it hammer and tongs. One even fell in the ditch at the front of the house (we’re up on stilts) when chasing each other around. The one above the ditch proceeded to kick the head of the one in it. Neither took any notice at all of us, even though we could have reached out and touched them. Andrew pleaded with them to settle things with a game of poker instead, but they weren’t interested.
We more often see a single male in gentle pursuit of a female. He’s a bit of a Pepe Le Pew, if you remember that amorous cartoon skunk. Pepe’s intended always raced off and he followed nonchalantly.
The male wallaby stands in front of her, gently cuffing her face with his two paws. She seems to accept this calmly. When he moves to her rear, she growls and moves off. And again, and again, and again. I guess they eventually get it together, as there are lots of joeys in evidence. When we first moved in, we thought a dog was growling under the house at night, but it was a pair of wooing wallabies.
Macropods have a convenient system whereby, after mating, the embryo is held in ‘diapause’ – it does not develop until the pouched young is weaned. Then it crawls from inside the mother’s body along the fur outside and into the pouch, where it latches onto one of the teats.
I’ve seen females sitting for hours in the charactieristic birthing posture (below) with tail between their legs. Occasionally she will lick her fur from the birth canal to the pouch. Presumably this is the path the newborn takes up and into the pouch.
According to the Parks and Wildlife Service Tasmania,
Soon after giving birth they mate again. This new embryo does not start to develop until either the young is almost ready to leave the pouch or dies.When this new young is born it makes its way into the pouch and attaches itself to a different nipple. Again, soon after the birth the mother will mate. As this cycle continues, it is possible for a female to be suckling a pouch young, a larger young outside the pouch, and be carrying an undeveloped embryo.
When joeys first come out of the pouch, they are very wobbly on their feet and tend to fall over a lot. It’s hilarious watching them stagger about, get to their feet, then go charging at break-neck speed away from and back to mum.
A few months later, a big pouch for a big baby …
Red-necked pademelons are a lot shyer, and tend to come out of the forest at the back of the house to feed at dusk and dawn. They have a more bent-over, creeping gait than wallabies, who tend to be upright and bouncy. I’ve never seen all three species together.