Skip to Main Content
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance logo
San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance Library logo

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

Physical Characteristics

Body measurements


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)

SDZWA Library Links