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Wallaby vs. Kangaroo: The Main Differences

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The main difference between wallabies and kangaroos are that wallabies are generally smaller, lighter, and live less than kangaroos. They are also different taxonomically and appearance-wise. Their diet, social life, distribution, and general behavior are similar to kangaroos. Wallabies are weaker and would lose in a fight.

Many people can’t tell the difference between wallabies and kangaroos. They look similar, behave alike, and live in the same areas. 

But there are many differences between the two types of macropods. The most obvious one is their size.

This article pits wallabies and kangaroos against each other to shed light on all the differences and similarities between these Australian mascots.

Wallaby vs. Kangaroo Overview

Wallabies and kangaroos are different in size, weight, life expectancy, and appearance. As both are macropods and related, there are many similarities as well, like diet, behavior, and habitat.

Both kangaroos and wallabies are made up of a wide array of species. This makes some differences (like size) overlap between species. 

The largest red-necked wallabies (biggest wallaby species) are bigger than the smallest black wallaroos (smallest kangaroo species).[1]

The table below compares the two extremes of both species. This gives an overarching idea of all the general differences between kangaroos and wallabies.[2]

Wallaby vs. Kangaroo Overview
TraitKangarooWallaby
GenusOsphranter, MacropusNotamacropus, Wallabia, Petrogale, Lagostrophus, Lagorchestes, Onychogalea, Dorcopsis, Dorcopsulus, Thylogale, Setonix
Size2.5–6.9 ft18 in (including tail)–2.7 ft
Weight29–200 pounds3.5–59 pounds
Lifespan6-27 yearsMaximum 15 years
HabitatAustraliaAustralia and some parts of New Guinea
DietHerbivoreHerbivore
AppearanceGenerally muscular, robust physique, strong arms, long tails, huge feet, pale tan to dark grey furSmall, rotund body shape, short feet and arms, pale grey to black and brown fur

Difference Between Wallabies and Kangaroos

Kangaroos are bigger and stronger than wallabies. They are robust and tall with long tails, muscular arms, and large feet. Wallabies tend to be short with stubby limbs, weak arms, slender tails, and small feet.

There are six main differences between wallabies and kangaroos:

  1. Taxonomy
  2. Size
  3. Weight
  4. Lifespan
  5. Appearance
  6. Teeth
  7. Speed

1. Taxonomy

Wallaby vs. Kangaroo Taxonomy
ClassificationKangarooWallaby
KingdomAnimaliaAnimalia
PhylumChordataChordata
ClassMammaliaMammalia
InfraclassMarsupialiaMarsupialia
OrderDiptrotodontiaDiptrotodontia
FamilyMacropodidaeMacropodidae
GenusMacropus, OsphranterNotamacropus, Wallabia, Petrogale, Lagostrophus, Lagorchestes, Onychogalea, Dorcopsis, Dorcopsulus, Thylogale, Setonix

Although they belong to different genera, both kangaroos and wallabies are ill-defined and used interchangeably. 

Small antilopine kangaroos are often called wallabies and another name for the red-necked wallaby is Bennett’s kangaroo.

Counting the two wallaroos, there are six kangaroo species:

  1. Red kangaroo
  2. Eastern gray kangaroo
  3. Western gray kangaroo
  4. Antilopine kangaroo
  5. Common wallaroo
  6. Black wallaroo

Wallabies are different from kangaroos in many aspects, but the name itself is hazy. The name “wallaby” does not refer to a distinct species but is more of a description used for small and medium-sized kangaroos and kangaroo-like animals.[3]

There is an ever-changing number of macropods we call wallabies with about thirty species at any given time. 

Here are some of the most well-known and widespread wallabies:[4] 

  • Red-necked wallaby
  • Agile wallaby
  • Western brush wallaby
  • Swamp wallaby
  • Whiptail wallaby

2. Size

Wallaby vs. Kangaroo Size

The main difference between kangaroos and wallabies is size. Kangaroos are generally larger than wallabies.

The biggest kangaroo, the red kangaroo can grow 6.9 ft tall, while the biggest red-necked wallaby is only about 2.7 ft tall.

3. Kangaroo Weight

Most kangaroos weigh more than wallabies. The lightest kangaroo males (the black wallaroos) weigh 45 pounds, which is heavier than the average red-necked wallaby (40 pounds).[5]

The lightest wallabies are the dwarf wallabies, weighing 3.5 pounds.

4. Lifespan

Kangaroos live longer than wallabies. The maximum life expectancy for a red-necked wallaby is 15 years. The longest-living red kangaroo lived for 27 years.

Their life cycles are identical. Both macropods go through the following life stages:

  1. Birth
  2. Infant/Young of the year
  3. Juvenile
  4. Adult

5. Appearance

Wallaby vs. Kangaroo Appearance

Although they look similar, kangaroos are more robust with longer limbs and bodies. Wallabies are short with a rotund body shape, small feet, and weak legs.

Their fur colors are similar (pale brown to dark gray/black), but kangaroos tend to have a uniform color. Wallabies can have up to three colors.

Female wallabies and kangaroos both have pouches on their belly.

6. Teeth

Wallabies have flat teeth which they use to grind leaves, their main source of food. Kangaroos’ diet mainly consists of coarse grass which they slice with their curved teeth.

7. Speed

Wallaby vs. Kangaroo Speed

The fastest kangaroos can jump at 44 mph. This is significantly faster than the top speed of wallabies at 30 mph.

Similarities Between Wallabies and Kangaroos

Wallabies and kangaroos are both macropods in Australia. They have overlapping habitats, as well as similar diets, behavior, social life, and movement.

It is easy to mistake wallabies for kangaroos. Apart from the few differences, their general characteristics are similar. The term wallaby and kangaroo is often used for species of both classifications.

The five main similarities are as follows:

  1. Movement
  2. Diet
  3. Behavior
  4. Social Life
  5. Distribution

1. Movement

Similarities Between Wallabies and Kangaroos Movement

Both wallabies and kangaroos hop for movement. They mainly lean forward on their front limbs and swing forward their hind legs while pushing with their tails. 

This type of movement is called saltatorial locomotion.[6]

Here are the forms of movements wallabies and kangaroos use:

  • Jumping
  • Hopping
  • Skipping
  • Crawl-walking

2. Diet

What Do Kangaroos Eat in Their Habitat

Kangaroos and wallabies are herbivores. They graze on plants and regurgitate for digestion. 

Although wallabies prefer leaves and kangaroos eat more grass, they generally eat the same foods:

  • Grass
  • Bushes
  • Leaves
  • Flowers
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Crop

3. Behavior

Both macropods are generally neutral and avoid fighting with humans. Their first instinct is to flee when sensing danger.

Kangaroos and wallabies both intimidate and fight their aggressors if they can’t escape. They use their strong legs to kick and sharp claws to scratch their enemies.

4. Social Life

Similarities Between Wallabies and Kangaroos Social Life

Kangaroos and wallabies are social creatures and live in groups called mobs, troops, or courts.[7] Mobs are dominated by alpha males. 

Males fight for the right to mate and hold down females if they resist mating.

5. Distribution

Wallabies and kangaroos are endemic to Australia. Although wallabies prefer wooded areas with heavy vegetation, both macropods are encountered all over the Continent. 

These are the many habitats kangaroos and wallabies inhabit:

  • Deserts
  • Savannas
  • Brushlands
  • Grasslands
  • Woodlands
  • Tropical rainforests
  • Open plains
  • Coastal areas

Related: Where Do Kangaroos Live?

How to Tell the Difference Between Wallabies and Kangaroos

You can tell the difference between wallabies and kangaroos by their size and shape. Kangaroos are larger, muscular animals with large feet. Wallabies don’t look as intimidating as their bigger cousins.

You can differentiate wallabies from kangaroos by their bodies. 

Wallabies are plump and stubby animals that rarely grow taller than 2.7 ft. Their feet are short compared to their bodies and their faces are more slender and smaller.

The hardest kangaroo to distinguish is the black wallaroo. You can tell them apart from wallabies by their dark grey color, stronger arms, and long feet. 

How to Tell the Difference Between Wallabies and Kangaroos

Which Animal Is the Stronger: a Wallaby or a Kangaroo?

Kangaroos beat wallabies in fights. They are stronger, taller, heavier, and have sharper claws.

Wallabies don’t stand a chance against kangaroos. Red and eastern gray kangaroos are known for their especially muscular physiques, while wallabies are delicate and small animals.

Although wallabies are smaller than kangaroos, neither of them is defenseless in the wild. Both macropods are more than capable of protecting themselves against predators.

Their repertoire of self-defense is considerable:

  • Strong kicks
  • Sharp claws
  • Powerful bites
  • Muscular tails
  • High speed
  • Great agility
  • Good swimming ability

Conclusion

Wallabies are generally smaller, lighter, weaker, slower, and shorter-living than kangaroos. They have tricolor fur while kangaroos have uniform colors. Their feet are smaller and their physique is less significant.

Both macropods live in Australia. They are herbivores sharing the same habitats and social structure. Both the terms “wallaby” and “kangaroo” are often used interchangeably depending on the size of the animal. Smaller kangaroos can be called wallabies and bigger wallabies may be identified as kangaroos.

FAQs

Are Wallabies Friendly?

Wallabies can be friendly. Wild wallabies are used to human presence and some individuals approach people for food. Some individuals are easily agitated and become aggressive fast. It’s best not to risk confrontation and to leave wild wallabies unbothered.

Did Wallabies Evolve from Kangaroos?

No, but they share a common ancestor. A 2017 discovery showed that the swamp wallaby and the kangaroos in the genus Macropus (eastern and western gray kangaroo) diverged from the same ancestor five to seven million years ago.[8]

Can Wallabies and Kangaroos Interbreed?

Kangaroos and wallabies are not known to interbreed. Although both animals give birth to one-inch long babies, there are significant size and weight differences between kangaroo and wallaby joeys. It may be theoretically possible, but the result would be a stillbirth or an infertile child. Wallaroos are often thought to be hybrids of wallabies and kangaroos, but it is a misconception.

About Misfit Animals Staff

The Misfit Animals staff consists of animal lovers, pet enthusiasts, veterinarians, zoologists, and other animal experts. Our goal is to provide people with information on proper animal care.

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