©Getty Images

©Getty Images

What is a wallaby?

Wallabies are part of a group of mammals called 'macropods', which means 'great-footed animals'. Kangaroos are the largest members of this group.  Wallabies are marsupials, which means the young are born very tiny and not very developed so they move to a pouch on their mother's belly, where they finish their development.  There are many different kinds of wallaby.

Habitat and Distribution (where they are found)

Wallabies are found in Australia, a few in New Guinea,  and there are different kinds of wallaby found throughout the country, in a variety of different habitats.

Appearance and Behaviours

A Bennett's wallaby at rest. ©Getty Images

A Bennett's wallaby at rest. ©Getty Images

Wallabies are small to medium sized animals, smaller than kangaroos. Like all macropods, wallabies have strong back legs with long feet. They hop on their back legs when travelling fast, using the tail as a balance. This is like bouncing on a spring.  It is an energy-efficient way of travelling great distances. Their front legs are small.Wallabies are smaller than kangaroos. They often eat the leaves of bushes as well as eating grass. Wallabies are active at night and rest during the day. Wallabies often rest in a sitting position, leaning against a rock or tree, with their tail lying on the ground in front of them.

Nailtail wallabies

There are three kinds of wallaby called nailtail wallabies, found only in Australia. They have a nail-like tip to their tails, but the reason for it is not known. Nailtails are found in grassy woodlands in the northern parts of Australia. They are shy and live alone. As they hop, they move their front legs as though they are pedalling, and are nicknamed 'organ grinder wallabies'.

A yellow-footed rock wallaby. ©Getty Images

A yellow-footed rock wallaby. ©Getty Images

Some wallabies live in rocky parts of Australia. They are called rock wallabies and are found only in Australia.  There are 16 species, or kinds, of rock wallaby, so they are our biggest group of macropods. They live in groups.  Their hind feet are furry to give them a better grip as they hop on rocks. Their tails are slender for better balance.  Among these are the yellow-footed rock wallaby and the brush-tailed rock wallaby. The yellow-footed rock wallaby is grey, with yellow and orange legs, feet and arms. It has a stripy tail and a white cheek stripe. It was once hunted for its fur, and has had to compete for food with feral goats and rabbits, so there are fewer of these wallabies than there were. 

Older joeys spend increasing time out of the pouch but still return for feeds. ©Getty Images

Older joeys spend increasing time out of the pouch but still return for feeds. ©Getty Images

Life Cycle

Marsupials are born after a very short pregnancy, so they are very undeveloped. They are tiny, blind and have no fur. The mother licks the fur on her belly, and as soon as it is born, the tiny creature climbs up along the damp fur pathway to the mother's pouch. The damp fur makes a path for it to follow and also prevents it from drying out. It is a huge journey for the tiny baby, and the mother can't touch it to help it on its way because it is so fragile.  Inside the pouch it suckles milk from a teat, not letting go until it is big enough to leave the pouch. As it grows, the milk changes to give the joey the nourishment it needs at each stage of its development. When it is big enough, the joey starts to leave the pouch to hop around, but returns to the pouch to feed. At this stage, the mother gives birth to another joey so that she has one in the pouch attached to a teat and one 'at foot' returning to feed from the teat it has always used.

The swamp wallaby is a dark colour. ©Getty Images

The swamp wallaby is a dark colour. ©Getty Images

Conservation status and Threats

Wallabies come in all sizes and live in different parts of Australia. Rock wallabies and nailtail wallabies are listed as Endangered.  Other kinds of wallaby are quite common.

Threats include habitat loss or deterioration as weeds invade. Introduced animals (such as the fox) and feral animals (animals such as dogs and cats that were domestic but became wild) are now predators that impose a threat,  and other introduced animals such as rabbits and feral goats compete with wallabies for food.