by Rita Goldner
You may have noticed that lately my posts have been about unusual wild animals. I use their behavior, habitat or physiology in an analogy to the human condition, or at least to my condition as a striving author/illustrator. It may look as though I’m painting myself into a corner, limiting my pool of topics. But there’s a method to my madness, and it’s this: I’m taking an in-depth class on building a YouTube channel, and when I get it up and running, I plan to make videos of child-friendly versions of my strange animal posts, accompanied by sketching instructions and/or kid activities. Now the posts will have two purposes and two audiences, kids and adults. Stay tuned, and I’ll let you know when the channel is ready, in case you have an animal-loving kid in your life. (I’ll use just wild animals, as domestic pets like cats and dogs have been overdone.)
Today’s subject is the amazing kangaroo, indigenous to Australia. They’re from the family Macropodidae, which means “large foot.” Small wonder they’re named that, since they can leap 30 feet in a single bound with their enormous feet, and can travel 30 miles an hour just by hopping. They are the only large animal (about 6 feet tall) that travels by hopping, and they also use their huge tails for balance. They are unable to walk backwards, which is why the kangaroo was chosen for the Australian coat of arms.
More than 34 million kangaroos exist in Australia, and the population is growing. They already outnumber the people. The “Fun Fact” everyone remembers about kangaroos is that the mother carry its baby, called a joey, in a pouch. The lesser-known fact is that the joeys are only one inch long when born merely one month after conception, blind and with no legs, just little forefeet. They use their little arms to pull their way, unassisted, through the mother’s fur on the arduous journey to her pouch. They latch onto a nipple in the pouch and stay there for four months without peeking out. At four months, they venture out for short explorations, but dive head-first back in for comfort and feeding. They don’t leave for good until almost a year old.
Another really weird trick kangaroos have in their reproductive timetable is the ability to stall a birth. With this feature, called diapause, they can avoid risk to themselves and the embryo when conditions are harsh, like scarcity of food, drought, or another big baby still in the pouch. The stalled gestation period can last much longer than the normal month. Sometimes the mother may go ahead and have a new baby when an older one is still nursing, as long as food and water are plentiful. In those instances, she manufactures two different kinds of milk: a high-fat one for the new baby, and a low-fat version for the older joey.
The obvious trait for me to choose to extrapolate into a life lesson is this postponing of birth for the opportune moment. The birth I’m thinking of is the launch of a new book. I’m working on one now, almost finished, and I’m poised, one toe in the water, nose to the wind, ear to the ground. I think the opportune time is coming, so I’m racing to get my ducks in a row by the holiday season.
Thanks for listening! Comments welcome.
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series.For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water Cycle, The Flying Artist, and Rose Colored. To view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.