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Buergers'/Goodfellow's (Dendrolagus goodfellowi) and Matschie's (Dendrolagus matschiei) Tree Kangaroos Fact Sheet: Physical Characteristics

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements

Attribute

Buergers' tree kangaroo
Dendrolagus goodfellowi buergersi
Matschie's tree kangaroo
Dendrolagus matschiei
Body weight Males: 6.7-8.5 kg (14.8-18.7 lb)
Females: 5.6-8.6 kg (12.3-19.0 lb)
Males: 5.8-10.0 kg (12.8-22.0 lb)
Females: 5.6-10.5 kg (12.4-23.2 lb)
Head-body length Males: 500-750 mm (19.7-29.5 in)
Females: 560-635 mm (22.1-25.0 in)
Males: 615-660 mm (24.2-26.0 in)
Females: 512-630 mm (20.2-24.8 in)
Tail length Males: 645-760 mm (25.4-29.9 in)
Females: 650-779 mm (25.6-30.7 in)
Males: 555-620 mm (21.9-24.4 in)
Females: 455-685 mm (17.9-27.0 in)
Ratio of tail to head-body length 1.18 1.00

Data sources: Flannery et al. (1996), Travis et al. (2012)

General Appearance

(Flannery 1993; Flannery 1995; Flannery et al. 1996; Moeller 1990)

Shape (Flannery et al. 1996; Moeller 1990)

  • Tree kangaroos differ in several ways from other kangaroos and wallabies, due to adaptations to life in trees
    • Head - more bearlike than ground-dwelling kangaroos
      • Broad face, short snout
      • Short round ears
      • Small eyes
    • Limbs - shorter hindlegs, sturdier forelegs than ground-dwelling kangaroos
    • Feet - some similarities, some differences with ground-dwelling kangaroos
      • In common - lack opposable first toe, have greatly enlarged middle (4th) toe with a long claw
      • Differences - feet shorter and broader than in ground-dwelling kangaroos
    • Tail -not as muscular or strongly tapered as in ground-dwelling kangaroos
      • Used primarily for balance in trees, not as a "third leg" while hopping as in many ground-dwelling kangaroos
  • Buergers' tree kangaroo - more slender than other species
  • Matschie's tree kangaroo - stocky body

Skin and pelage (Flannery et al. 1996; Hutchins et al. 1991)

  • Buergers' tree kangaroo
    • Fur - short, usually woolly
    • Body, shoulders, ears - chestnut brown
    • Belly - light-colored
    • Throat - yellow
    • Face - plain brown with slightly paler muzzle
    • Eyes - blue
    • Forelimbs - yellow forearms sharply defined from brown upper arms
    • Dorsal stripes - distinctive double longitudinal yellow stripes run down back from shoulders to rump (may run from back of head entire length of back)
    • Tail - distinctive yellow or white and brown bands and blotches
      • Pattern unique to each individual
    • Hands and feet - flesh-colored skin
    • Differs from D. g. goodfellowi by presence of distinct dorsal stripes and absence of buff speckling on body
  • Matschie's tree kangaroo
    • Fur - relatively long, woolly
    • Body and upper forearms - chestnut to wood-brown
    • Face - distinctive brown and white or yellow pattern, often asymmetrical
      • Pattern unique to each individual
    • Nose - pale pink
    • Ears - yellow, brown, or a combination
    • Forearms and belly - light-colored (pale brown to yellowish-white)
    • Tail - solid-colored, pale brown to dull yellowish brown to bright yellow
    • Hands and feet - flesh-colored skin
    • Differs from D. g. buergersi by absence of dorsal stripes, shorter tail, no markings on tail

Sexual Dimorphism

(Flannery et al. 1996)

  • Not pronounced in Buergers' and Matschie's tree kangaroos
  • Little/no significant difference in weight between the sexes
  • Males have:
    • Sagittal crest (ridge of bone at top of head)
    • Stronger masseter (biting) jaw muscles, anchored on the sagittal crest

Adaptations to Arboreal Life

(Flannery et al. 1996; Iwaniuk 1998; Martin 2005; Moeller 1990; Warburton et al. 2011)

Shoulders and forelimbs

  • Tree kangaroos are strong, mobile, and dextrous (Iwaniuk 1998; Warburton et al. 2011)
  • Forelimbs much more highly developed in tree kangaroos than in ground-dwelling kangaroos and wallabies
    • No pronounced size difference between forelimbs and hindlimbs
  • Increased strength
    • Due to changes in size and attachment of forelimb muscles
    • Improved abilities to bend, grasp, grip, pull
  • Improved mobility and dexterity in reaching
    • Due to modified shapes of shoulder and forelimb bones
    • Similar freedom of movement only seen in 1 other non-primate, the raccoon (Procyon lotor)

Hindlimbs - less muscle mass than ground-dwellers (Martin 2005)

  • Tree kangaroos have typical enlarged kangaroo hindlimbs with robust femurs (upper leg bones)
    • Muscles not as highly developed as ground-dwelling relatives

Remarkable manual dexterity (Iwaniuk 1998; Moeller 1990; Warburton et al. 2011)

  • Can make complex movements with forepaws:
    • Bend forepaws sharply at wrist
    • Oppose 1st and 2nd fingers to others
    • Easily grasp stems between 2 fingers
  • Able to independently move digits (fingers, toes)
    • Only seen in 2 other non-primates, the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) and the northern quoll (Dasyurus hallucatus)

Feet and ankles - increased mobility (Martin 2005)

  • Forefeet and hind feet of tree kangaroos have greater ranger of mobility than ground-dwelling kangaroos
    • Modified ankle bones allow rotation of hind feet to turn soles of feet inwards
    • Tree kangaroos are only existing kangaroos with this ability

Paws - designed to grip (Martin 2005)

  • Hind feet much shorter and broader than in ground-dwelling kangaroos
  • Large, high-friction pads on forefeet and hindfeet
    • Covered with prominent tubercles (small, nobby projections)
    • Similar to the rubber face of a ping-pong paddle
  • Extreme claws on every digit
    • Longer and more curved than ground-dwelling kangaroos
  • Buergers' and Matschie's tree kangaroos belong to "short-footed" group of tree kangaroos
    • Shortest, broadest, softest hindfoot pads, and most curved claws

Tails - designed to balance (Martin 2005)

  • Used as a balancing aid when moving around in trees
  • Less muscular than in ground-dwelling kangaroos - never used as "5th leg" while hopping

Ears - modified shape (Martin 2005)

  • Small and rounded - very different from ground-dwelling kangaroos' large ears
  • Tree-dwellers may have less need of acute hearing than ground-dwellers
  • Smaller ears may be advantage moving through thick tree foliage

Other Physical and Physiological Characteristics

  • Teeth (Flannery et al. 1996; Martin 2005)
    • Form and function show adaptations for browsing diet
    • Incisors (cutting teeth) - used to grip and pluck or cut twigs/leaves from plants
      • 3 upper, 1 lower on each side
      • Lower incisor - largest tooth in tree kangaroo's mouth, modified to form long cutting blade
    • Canine teeth - 1 tiny remnant on each side, no apparent function
    • Large diastema (gap)
    • Premolars (slicing teeth) - slice pieces off ingested plant matter
      • 1 pair permanent premolars on each side
        • Unique feature in kangaroos - upper permanent premolar replaces 2 deciduous premolars in same position
      • Tree kangaroo premolars more complex than in ground-dwelling kangaroos
        • More cusps and cutting edges
    • Molars (grinding teeth) - finely cut up and grind pieces of plant matter
        • Relatively low-crowned compared with ground-dwelling kangaroos
  • Digestive system (Bush & Montali 1991; Martin 2005)
    • Similar to other kangaroos
    • Large, multi-chambered stomach
        • Sacculated forestomach - folds expand for food storage
        • Tubiform forestomach - bacterial fermentation occurs here to break down hard-to-digest plant material
        • Hind stomach - absorption occurs here
  • Urogenital system (Flannery et al. 1996)
    • Female reproductive organs - similar to other kangaroos
      • 2 ovaries, 2 oviducts, 2 separate uteruses
      • 3 vaginas open into a shared urogenital sinus
        • 2 lateral vaginas through which sperm travels up to each uterus
        • 1 central birth canal - very short in tree kangaroos
      • Forward-facing pouch with 4 functional teats, as in other kangaroos
    • Male reproductive organs - similar to other kangaroos
      • Penis long and tapering; head covered with small, sharp spines
      • Testes carried in external scrotum, in front of penis
        • Buergers' and Matschie's tree kangaroos - relatively large testes
    • Urogenital canal very long
    • Urine and feces released from cloaca (single posterior opening)
    • Kidneys studied in Matschie's tree kangaroo - unusual structure (Yadav 1979, as cited in Flannery et al. 1996)
      • Nephrons (kidney's filtration units) empty individually into a cribiform plate (sieve-like structure) instead of joining together in a papilla
      • Thinnest medulla of 14 macropodid species studied - suggests poor ability to concentrate urine
  • Nervous system (Martin 2005)
    • Tree kangaroos have large brains relative to body size for marsupials

Buergers' Tree Kangaroo

Striped back and tail of a tree kangaroo

The distinctive dorsal stripes and tail bands of Buergers' tree kangaroo.

Image credit: © By C. Burnett, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons. Public domain.

Page Citations

Bush & Montali (1991)
Flannery (1993)
Flannery (1995)
Flannery et al. (1996)
Hutchins et al. (1991)
Iwaniuk (1998)
Martin (2005)
Moeller (1990)
Travis (2012)
Warburton et al. (2011)
Yadav (1979)

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