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Welcome to the Greenwood.Net Curiosity Corner

Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport

Mar 13, 2019

Curiosity Corner
Dr. Jerry D. Wilson,
Emeritus Professor of Physics
Lander University

Before getting into this week’s Corner, I want to take the time to thank those that have a hand in getting them to you. I send each edition of Curiosity Corner to Lander University’s Office of University Relations and Publications, where Megan Price sees that they are distributed to the various newspapers, but not before Graham Duncan reads and edits them, keeping me straight! Many thanks to both of them.

I was reading my National Geographic magazine the other day and noticed an article titled “Becomes a Pest.” A picture showed an Australian home with a dozen or more kangaroos in the yard. “Roos” (as they are often called) are an Australian icon: on their coins, coat of arms, commercial airlines, in children’s books, and much more. So, why are they pests?

It seems there are too many, with twice as many “roos” as there are people (an estimated 50 million kangaroos to 25 million people). In populated areas, they can be a nuisance. They graze on lawns and decimate gardens. For farmers, kangaroos are a problem in eating crops, livestock feed, and so on. They account for 80 percent of vehicle-animal collisions (which reminds me of the deer population in West Virginia). So, people must be careful -- they are wild animals, after all!

I recall seeing kangaroos in a park when I visited Australia. They look nice enough for humans to interact with, and I really wanted to pet the little ones, but a big sign read, “Don’t disturb the roos!” This is due to their powerful hind legs and large feet (for hopping), and long, muscular tail (for balance) that, when combined, can deliver a deadly kick if they take a notion … and you don’t want to find out. A large male can stand over six feet tall and weigh 200 pounds!

Kangaroos are marsupials -- that is, they feed their young milk and carry them in a pouch. Our common possum (opossum) is a marsupial, as well. One of the contributing factors to kangaroo overpopulation is the reproduction process, which is fascinating. Kangaroo females get pregnant the regular way: a fertilized egg is embedded in the wall of the mother’s uterus. The big difference from regular mammal development is that no placental connection is formed (analogous to a bird’s egg). So, the fetus develops, and the whole pregnancy is only about 28 days long!

The baby is born alive, but the infant is very tiny -- only about the size of a jelly bean, with two front arms that are critical for climbing up to the mother’s pouch. Once inside the pouch, the baby finds one of its mother’s four nipples and begins to feed. The “joey” (a baby roo) spends several months in the pouch developing, and then spends brief periods outside under the protection of the mom, returning to the pouch to sleep.

But the cycle doesn’t end there. Once a mother has given birth, she will mate again and become pregnant. However, this second baby won’t be born after 28 days like the first. Instead, the second baby develops into a bundle of cells and then stops growing. It remains there in the womb, waiting for the pouch to vacate before finishing development.

So, now you can see why kangaroo overpopulation can be a problem. As a friend of mine in Australia told me, “a mother kangaroo can nourish three separate youngsters at a time -- an older Joey that has left the pouch, a young one developing inside the pouch, and an embryo still waiting to be born.”

C.P.S. (Curious Postscript): When you come across a problem in your life, do not always try to solve it; make a long jump like a kangaroo and continue your way! Sometimes problems must be leaped over without touching them. -Mehmet Idan

Curious about something? Send your questions to Dr. Jerry D. Wilson, College of Science and Mathematics, Lander University, Greenwood, SC 29649, or email jerry@curiosity-corner.net. Selected questions will appear in the Curiosity Corner. For Curiosity Corner background, go to www.curiosity-corner.net.

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