Discover why this antipodean animal is a natural-born long jumper!
In a huge country such as Australia, the ability to cross vast distances in search of food and water is key to survival. And one such animal that can traverse barren lands at high speed for hours is the kangaroo.
Capable of an eight-metre (25-foot) single bound across level ground, the red kangaroo is one of the world’s greatest long jumpers.
Thanks to large feet and strong legs, it can also travel at over 50 kilometres (30 miles) per hour. While a kangaroo’s hind legs are big and powerful, they can’t work independently of each other and so kangaroos have to hop on two feet.
The hind leg tendons are strong and elastic and, with every hop, elastic energy is recaptured in the tendons ready for the next jump.
To help the bounce, kangaroos use their tails as a counterbalance. It propels the animal in a similar way to using your legs on a swing to gain momentum. When the kangaroo’s back legs are fully outstretched behind it the tail is in the downward position, and when the legs are pushing forwards the tail is high in the air.
Top question about kangaroos
Why do kangaroos have long tails? The long tail – up to lm (3.3ft) – is used for both balance and as a counterweight. It swings up as the animal leaves the ground and down as the legs swing back with every bounce to help propel the kangaroo.
Why do kangaroos have short arms? Though the forearms are much shorter than the hind legs, a kangaroo can walk (not hop) on all fours if it leans forward and uses its tail as a fifth leg to take some of the weight.
Why do kangaroos have big feet? A kangaroo’s big toes are in the centre of the other toes (not to one side like ours) in line with their leg bones, which enables them to push off with force.
Why do kangaroos have strong hind legs? Strong tendons act like tightly wound springs that store and release energy. On touching down, the spring is compressed, storing energy for the next hop.