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Buergers'/Goodfellow's (Dendrolagus goodfellowi) and Matschie's (Dendrolagus matschiei) Tree Kangaroos Fact Sheet: Behavior & Ecology


  • Little data available
    • Little data available
      • Very difficult to locate and track tree kangaroos in New Guinea due to dense and inaccessible forest habitat
  • Advances in technology improving ability to monitor and study
    • Radio-tracking and GPS
    • Crittercam (National Geographic)
    • High-resolution remote sensing - used to discriminate forest types in habitat studies (Stabach et al. 2009)

Activity Cycle

(Flannery 1995; Hutchins & Smith 1991)

  • Unclear, different patterns observed - may be influenced by hunting pressure or keeper activity
    • Crepuscular (dawn/dusk) or diurnal (daytime) in managed care and undisturbed wild areas
    • Nocturnal in densely settled wild areas

Home Range

(Flannery et al. 1996; Martin 2005)

  • Buergers' tree kangaroo
    • No data
  • Matschie's tree kangaroo
    • Home range: about 25 ha (62 acres) based on 1 individual (Flannery et al. 1996)
    • Density: 0.6-1.4 individuals per hectare in study by W. Betz (as cited in Martin 2005)
      • Distance-sampling method - calculation based on dung pellets

Social Groups

(Flannery et al. 1996; Hutchins et al. 1991)

  • Buergers' tree kangaroo
    • Male-female pairs often found together - unusual for tree kangaroos (Flannery et al. 1996)
  • Matschie's tree kangaroo
    • Little information on behavior in wild - described as solitary (Flannery et al. 1996)
    • Variety of social behaviors observed for 4 adults in managed care (Hutchins et al. 1991)
      • Most common: approach, nose contact
      • Also: avoid, cuff, grasp/touch, follow, social head rub, wipe, wrestle
      • Infrequent: groom another individual, bite, chase, mount, push, vocalize
      • No clear-cut dominance hierarchy
      • High level of agonistic behaviors (aggression, avoidance) suggests species may be solitary in the wild

Agonistic Behavior and Defense

(Flannery et al. 1996; Watson 1998)

  • Male aggression
    • Typically extreme in male tree kangaroos
    • Impossible to keep 2 adult male Matschie's tree kangaroos in same enclosure
    • Biting and cuffing most often initiated by male Matschie's tree kangaroos toward female
  • Female aggression
    • Female Matschie's tree kangaroos can be very aggressive toward strange joeys (young)
    • Females may sometimes act aggressive towards each other
  • Fighting posture
    • Tree kangaroos typically fight while lying on sides
      • Forelimbs used to box and wrestle while animals bite fiercely
    • Do not kick from standing position, unlike ground-dwelling kangaroos
      • Hind limb and tail adaptations for arboreal life do not allow standing kick - tree kangaroo would fall over

Other Behaviors

Play (Hutchins et al. 1991; Procter-Gray & Ganslosser 1986; Watson 1998)

  • Not documented in Buergers' and Matschie's tree kangaroos
  • Play in other tree kangaroo species: Doria's tree kangaroo in managed care (reviewed in Watson 1998)
    • Play-fight while lying on their sides - wrestle without kicking
      • Unique to tree kangaroos
    • Juveniles play-fight with adults of both sexes, but more often with males
    • Restrained tail-biting may be invitation to play
    • Chasing play between juveniles occurs rarely
    • Individuals play with objects (grab at falling leaves, manipulate pieces of food)

Feeding (Procter-Gray & Ganslosser 1986)

  • Not well-described in wild
  • Buergers' and Matschie's tree kangaroos pick up food with forepaws, place in mouth


  • Not described for Buergers' and Matschie's tree kangaroos

Comfort movements (George 1982; Procter-Gray 1986)

  • Ear-flicking common among tree kangaroos - presumably to shake off insects
  • Shaking - to disperse rain
  • Grooming - licking, nibbling, scratching
  • Lick forearms under heat stress - lowers body temperature
    • Particularly common in Matschie's tree kangaroo


(Flannery et al. 1996; George 1982; Hutchins & Smith 1990)

  • Vocalization (Flannery et al. 1996; George 1982)
    • Tree kangaroos usually silent
    • Tongue-clicking - associated with anger, anxiety
    • Courtship and mating
      • Tongue-clicking (male)
      • Growling, hissing (female) - early courtship stage
      • Soft trumpeting sound (female Lumholtz's tree kangaroo) - made during mating (Johnson & Delean 2003)
  • Posturing (George 1982)
      • Swishing tail side-to-side - warning signal
      • Nose jab signals - signal intention to bite (Buergers' tree kangaroo)
  • Scent-marking (George 1982; Hutchins & Smith 1990)
    • Tree kangaroos have scent glands on chest
    • Observed to scent-mark objects in managed care
      • Matschie's tree kangaroo reported scent-marking log with head


  • Overview (Flannery et al. 1996; George 1982)
    • Tree-climbing rare in marsupials
      • Only tree kangaroos, quokkas (Setonix brachyurus), some rock wallabies
    • Tree kangaroos use different gaits for different conditions and speeds
    • Preferred methods of locomotion vary between species
        • Go to ground to move from tree-to-tree
        • In New Guinea, rarely jump from great heights (unlike more slender and agile Australian species)
  • Buergers' and Matschie's tree kangaroos
    • Use gaits similar to ground-dwelling kangaroos (Flannery et al. 1996; Windsor & Dagg 1971)
    • On ground or large horizontal branches (Windsor & Dagg 1971)
      • Walking
        • Buergers' tree kangaroo - combines walking and hopping
        • Matschie's tree kangaroo - able walker, rarely hops
      • Bipedal (2-legged) hopping
        • Shorter stride length than most other kangaroos and wallabies, not capable of same hopping speeds (Martin 2005)
        • Greatest speed clocked in Matschie's tree kangaroo - 21 km/h (13 mi/h)
      • Quadrupedal (4-legged) bounding
        • Forward leap, alternating between both forefeet and both hind feet
        • Similar to other kangaroos and wallabies
    • On narrow branches (Windsor & Dagg 1971)
      • Slow walk, using hindlimbs asynchronously - unique among macropods
    • Vertical climbing (Moeller 1990)
      • Buergers' and Matschie's tree kangaroos - efficient climbers, best of 4 tree kangaroo species studied
      • Preferred climbing methods differ between species
        • Buergers' tree kangaroo grasps trunk with outstretched arms, pushes body up with hindlegs close together

Much to Be Learned

Two tree Kanagroos


Little is known about the social lives of tree kangaroos in the wild.

Though described as solitary, tree kangaroos are also observed in small groups.

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. All rights reserved.

Page Citations

Flannery (1995)
Flannery et al. (1996)
George (1982)
Hutchins & Smith (1990)
Hutchins et al. (1991)
Martin (2005)
Procter-Gray & Ganslosser (1986)
Thompson (2000)
Watson (1998)
Windsor & Dagg (1971)

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