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Red-necked Wallaby (Macropus rufogriseus) Fact Sheet: Taxonomy & History

Red-necked Wallaby Macropus rufogriseus

Taxonomy and Nomenclature

  • The genus Macropus contains more living and extinct species than any other marsupial genus (Prideaux & Warburton 2010)
  • Scientific Name: Latin word macropus comes from Greek word makros or "long foot"; Latin word rufogriseus means "red-gray haired"
    • Formerly, the subspecies M. r. rufogriseus only referred to wallabies from King Island or the Bass Strait islands and the Tasmanian forms were M. r. fruticus; M. r. banksianus has always referred to mainland Australia wallabies (Jarman & Calaby 2008)
  • Common Name: Tasmanian subspecies known as Bennett's wallaby; mainland Australia subspecies called red-necked wallaby for reddish tinge to neck and shoulder fur
  • The six largest macropods are kangaroos; smaller macropods are called wallabies (Dawson 1995)
  • Traditional taxonomy (ITIS 2006):
    • Most modern kangaroo species belong to one subfamily
    • Another subfamily is known from fossils and from one remaining living species (banded hare wallaby)
  • New appraisal of taxonomy (Prideaux & Warburton 2010):
    • The traditional family of tiny potoroos (Potoroidae) should be part of the family of kangaroos and wallabies (Macropodidae)
    • Living kangaroos and wallabies are represented by 4 subfamilies (Prideaux & Warburton 2010):
      • Potorines
      • Lagostrophines
      • Sthenuines
      • Macropodines

Evolutionary History

  • Marsupials probably arrived in Australia between 71.2 to 65.2 million years ago (Late Cretaceous) (Beck 2008)
  • Ancestors of the kangaroos and wallabies were possum-like marsupial mammals (Prideaux & Warburton 2010)
    • Lived in trees in forests between 50 to 34 million years ago (Eocene)
  • Molecular evidence dates the origins of the macropod family (kangaroos and their kin) to around 30 million years ago (Mid to Late Oligocene) (Dawson & Webster 2010)
  • Actual known fossils of early macropods date to around 23 million years ago (Early Miocene) (Archer & Bartholomai 1978)
  • By 16.7 million years ago (Middle Miocene) macropods began to diversify as the first grasslands appeared in Australia (Martin 2006)
    • Some researchers suggest a climate cooling event around 14 million years ago (Böhme 2003) with drier, more open habitats is linked to anatomical and metabolic adaptations in ancient kangaroos (Prideaux & Warburton 2010) (Kear et al. 2007) (Dawson 1995):
      • Changes in teeth and jaws (for chewing new gritty grasses)
      • Specialized stomachs and physiologies for digesting grasses (including ruminant-like fermentation by bacteria, fungi, protozoans)
      • New locomotion style (hopping between sparse resources that was fueled by highly efficient aerobic metabolism) (Dawson & Webster 2010)
        • Other studies suggest hopping evolved even earlier in forested environments, as early as 30 million years ago
        • Except for the macropod family, there is no evidence from the fossil record that any other large vertebrates over 5 kg (11 lb) ever hopped
        • Other animals that independently evolved hopping: small perching birds, rodents (Helgen et al. 2006)
  • Red-necked wallabies are known from Ice Age (Late Pleistocene) cave deposits in southern Australia:
    • Naracoorte Caves, South Australia - contains fossils dated between at least 200,000 and 16,000 years ago (Williams 1980)
      • Wallabies co-existed with now extinct animals such as the thylacines (Tasmanian wolf), Thylacoleo (marsupial lion), and giant kangaroos (Procoptodon)
      • Naracoorte Caves are now protected as a United Nations World Heritage Site for their diversity of high quality fossils representing major stages of the earth's evolutionary history (UNEP 2011)

Cultural History

  • A cave excavated in 1981 in southern Tasmania contained a rich collection of Ice Age (Pleistocene) stone tools and hunted animals' bones (Garvey 2007, 2010)
    • The site was occupied by early humans between 19,720 and 14,840 years ago
    • Bennett's wallabies comprised some 92% of the faunal remains
      • Hindlimb bones were the most common parts of the skeleton found
    • Hunters split the hindlimb bones to reveal the marrow cavity
      • Archaeologists suggest that human hunters sought these particular bones rather than other parts of the wallaby skeleton
      • Bones furthest from the warm central core of the animal's body are especially rich in unsaturated fats (and have less saturated fat) than other bones
  • In 1870s several Bennett's wallabies from Tasmania were brought to New Zealand's South Island (Le Page et al. 2000) (Jackson 2005) (Warburton 2005)
    • From this original group, some 3-5 pairs escaped into the wild and thrive today
  • Several attempts since late 1800s failed to establish wild populations in Europe, notably (Long 2003):
    • In a game park in Czechoslovakia - simply disappeared
    • In a 500 ha (acre) forest near Bonn, Germany - fell to poachers
    • On the estate of Count Witzleben near Altdöbern, Germany - destroyed because they "frightened other animals"
    • On the island of Herm in the Channel Islands, Guernsey - eaten by English soldiers during World War II
    • In Hungary and the Ukraine - no records of their fate known
  • Beginning in 1867, several introductions in New Zealand that established wild populations (Long 2003)
  • Many accidental and deliberate releases reported in UK (Warburton 2005)
    • Four individuals released on a Scottish island in Loch Lomond in 1975 were known to have increased to a population of 26 by 1992 (Weir et al. 1995)
  • Wallaby meat is still considered a delicacy in Tasmania (Jarman & Calaby 2008)

Classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Diprotodontia - koalas, wombats, possums, macropods (kangaroos, tree kangaroos, wallaroos, etc.)

Family: Macropodidae - kangaroos, wallabies

Genus: Macropus

Species: Macropus rufogriseus (Desmarest, 1817) - red-necked wallaby

Subspecies: M. r. banksianus (Quoy and Gaimard, 1825) - red wallaby
Subspecies: M. r. fruticus (Ogilby, 1838)
Subspecies: M. r. rufogriseus (Desmarest, 1817) - Bennett's wallaby

Source: Integrated Taxonomic Information System (2016)

Early Illustration

Illustration of red-necked wallaby by John Gould, 1863

Illustration of a red-necked wallaby by 19th century artist-naturalist John Gould.

Although Gould is typically associated with birds, a 1938 trip to Australia inspired his three volume Mammals of Australia and an additional monograph on kangaroos.

Published in Mammals of Australia in 1863 (Vol. II, Plate 17).

Image credit: Public Domain. Made publically available by Museum Victoria via Wikimedia Commons.

Page Citations

Agar 2008
Archer & Bartholomai (1978)
Beck (2008)
Böhme (2003)
Dawson (1995)
Dawson & Webster (2010)
Garvey (2007, 2010)
Helgen et al. (2006)
ITIS (2006, 2016)
Jackson (2005)
Jarman & Calaby (2008)
Kear et al. (2007)
LePage et al. (2000)
Long (2003)
Martin (2006)
McKenzie et al. (2008)
Prideaux & Warburton (2010)
UNEP (2011)
Warburton (2005)
Williams (1980)

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