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Red-necked Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology

Red-necked Wallaby Macropus rufogriseus

Activity Cycle

  •  In a study monitoring red-necked wallaby activity in north-eastern New South Wales, Australia (Southwell 1987):
    • Active morning, afternoons
    • Rest mid-day in cover of vegetation or a gully
  • Feed only intermittently at night (Johnson et al. 1987)
  • An average wallaby dropped some 311 fecal pellets in a 24 hour period (Johnson et al. 1987)
    • More pellets were produced as animals became more active; fewer eliminated during the middle of day when resting

Home Range

  • In a study at Wallaby Creek, New South Wales, Australia (Johnson 1987):
    • Home ranges of males larger than females' ranges
      • 31.6 ha (78.1 acres) for males; larger adult males had larger home ranges
      • 11.8 ha (29.2 acres) for females
  • Home ranges in winter larger than in summer: 10.9 vs. 5.9 ha (26.9 vs 14.6 acres) (Jarman & Calaby 2008)
  • Home ranges of each wallaby overlapped with those of several others of either sex and all ages (Johnson 1989a)

Social Groups

General

  • Generally solitary; groups are small and change constantly but are "structured around regular associations between certain individuals and classes of individuals" (Johnson 1989a)
    • Groups are so fluid that individual wallabies do not relax their alertness when in the group
    • In contrast, the more social eastern gray kangaroos are less vigilant when surrounded by others
  • In a study of 98 individually recognized wild wallabies at Wallaby Creek, New South Wales, Australia (Johnson 1989a):
    • Individual wallabies spent 62% of their time alone
    • Females with small pouch young and no young-at-foot were relatively social
    • Females with a small young at foot and a small pouch young were least likely to associate with other females
    • Males associated with other males of similar size
    • Females groups were similar to those of some deer species: open membership, matrilineal, overlapping home ranges
    • Groups were largest and least stable in winter months, possibly because good habitat areas were fewer and more patchy in distribution
  • Marsupials have been presumed to have less complex social behavior than placental mammals (Blumstein et al. 2002)
    • As a result, many subtle behaviors and social relationships may have been missed by researchers

Hierarchy

  • Males establish dominance via fighting (Johnson 1989b)
  • Both males and females have a linear dominance pattern similar to all macropods (Ord et al.1999):
    • Each individual dominates all individuals below him/her and not those above
    • Body weight correlates to dominance status; heavier individuals are dominant
  • Dominant males are found near females in estrus

Communication

Visual signs

  • Kangaroo and wallaby ears are large and mobile; most likely they serve a subtle signaling role (Watson & Croft 1993)

Vocalization and auditory signals

  • Because wallaby vocal cords are very undeveloped, their calls are simply growls, hisses, coughs and an isolation call (Baker & Croft 1993)
  • Pouch young give distress vocalizations (Ord et al 1999)
  • Males "cluck" when courting; this may increase females' receptivity (Ord et al 1999)
  • Females hiss during sexual encounters (Ord et al 1999)
  • Foot thumping may serve to confuse predators and also may warn other kangaroos of danger, but exact function of this common behavior is not yet known (Rose et al 2006)

Olfaction/scent marking

  • Males of many Macropus species have scent glands on their chest (Sharman & Calaby 1964)
    • Males of some macropod species either rub their chests on females or on vegetation while in the presence of estrus females (Ord et al. 1999)
    • Male forest wallabies (Dorcopsis luctuosa) in captivity rub their chests on tree trunks while standing erect; no females were seen to respond (Bourke 1989)
  • In experimental settings, kangaroos and wallabies have been observed to avoid or flee from areas with dingo scents but not coyote scents or human scents (Parsons & Blumstein 2010) (Parsons et al. 2007)

Agonistic Behavior and Defense

  • Two individuals in an aggressive encounter exhibit the following behaviors (McLeod 1986):
    • Stand tall
    • Prick ears
    • Expand chest
    • Cross forepaws

Territorial Behavior

  • Non-territorial (Johnson 1985) in small, stable home ranges (Johnson 1987)

Other Behaviors

Play (Watson & Croft 1993)

  • Researchers observing wallaby and kangaroo behavior suggest that many encounters characterized as "ritualized fighting" behavior are instead examples of play
    • Play described as bouts of punching, "boxing" or wrestling usually interrupted by periods of non-play activity
  • Play fighting observed in captive M. r. banksianuswas grouped by researchers into 5 categories:
    • Acts associated with starting a bout
      • "Actor" wallaby approaches within 1 m (3.3 ft) of "reactor" wallaby
      • "Actor" orients towards "reactor" with head or body
    • Fighting acts:
      • Skip or dance
        • One wallaby (the "actor") stands high on tips of toes and tail with back held straight
        • One or more spring-like hops made, sometimes in a circle around the other wallaby
        • "Actor" extends forelimbs towards the other wallaby
        • Skipping or dancing is also seen in play behavior of many non-marsupial mammals and it may be unique to play activity
      • Grab
        • "Actor" wallaby attempts to wrap its arms around the "reactor"
      • Spar
        • With head inclined backwards, both wallabies push, paw, hit, grab in quick succession while standing high
      • Defense
        • The "actor" breaks or avoids further contact with "reactor" by taking a single step backwards
      • Paw
        • One wallaby slowly makes vertical movements of forelimbs directed towards eyes or chest of the other
        • Motions do not necessarily make contact with the other individual
    • Sexual acts
    • Acts seen in play that didn't have a clearly defined social role
    • Acts associated with ending a bout
      • Orienting away
      • Moving at least 1 m (3.3 ft) away from each other
  • Wallabies show restraint during play fighting, a behavior common to the play of many other animals
    • Examples: wallabies do not kick with full force; cats don't deploy claws, dogs bite gently

Locomotion

  • All members of the macropod family travel by hopping (Dawson & Webster 2010)
  • In a classic study of the red kangaroos (larger relatives of the red-necked wallabies) (Dawson & Taylor 1973):
    • Oxygen consumption measured while kangaroos hopped on a treadmill
    • At low speeds below 6 km/hr (3.7 mph) rely on pentapedal (five-footed) gait with tail serving as a "crutch"
      • With hind feet and tail on ground, place front feet on ground
      • Pull tail to body; hind limbs lift until only toes touch ground
      • Hind limbs swing forward together while kangaroo supports self with front limbs and tail
      • Lifts front limbs
      • Moves front limbs forward as cycle is repeated
      • Gait is used for foraging and grazing
      • This gait is energetically costly
    • At higher speeds, beginning at 6-7 km/hour (3.7-4.3 mph), use bipedal hopping with both hindlimbs moving together
    • At speeds over 18 km/hour, less energy is required for a kangaroo to hop than for a four-legged animal to run
    • The achilles tendon and ligaments store and return mechanical energy with each hop (Biewener & Baudinette 1998)
  • Are good swimmers, by "dog-paddling" using hands and feet, with hind limbs alternating (Dawson 1995)
    • Contrary to widespread belief, kangaroos can move their hind limbs independently (while swimming and when moving backwards) (Staker 2006)
  • A resting posture occasionally used: lie on back as if sunbathing, with legs held in mid air (Staker 2006)

Interspecies Interactions

  • Carnivores in the Ice Age (Pleistocene) Australian megafauna preyed on red-necked wallabies for over 100,000 years (Blumstein et al. 2002):
    • Tasmanian wolves (Thylacinus) - extinct around 1936
    • Marsupial lions (Thylacoleo) - extinct around 45,000 years ago
  • Red-necked wallabies are the major prey species for dingoes (Canis familiaris dingo) (Johnson 1989)
  • Wedge-tailed eagles also prey on red-necked wallabies (Stuart-Dick & Higginbottom 1989)
  • Eastern grey kangaroos (Macropus giganteus), rufous bettongs (Aepyprymnus rufescens), and cattle share the same habitat (Johnson 1989)

Travel by Hopping

Red-necked Wallaby on all four paws

Red-necked wallabies have powerful haunches for hopping.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Baker & Croft (1993)
Biewener & Baudinette (1998)
Blumstein et al. (2002)
Bourke (1989)
Dawson (1995)
Dawson & Taylor (1973)
Dawson & Webster (2010)
Jarman & Calaby (2008)
Johnson (1985, 1986, 1987, 1989a,b)
Johnson et al. (1987)
McLeod (1986)
Ord et al. (1999)
Parsons & Blumstein (2010)
Parsons et al. (2007)
Rose et al. (2006)
Sharman & Calaby (1964)
Southwell (1987)
Staker (2006)
Stuart-Dick & Higginbottom (1989)
Watson & Croft (1993)

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