Kangaroo Tail Acts Like An Extra Leg

The extraordinary way a kangaroo uses its tail.
Marsha Lewis, Contributing Producer

(Inside Science TV) -- A mammalian enigma indigenous to Australia, the kangaroo certainly has on odd way of getting from place to place.

But did you know the way kangaroos move has a lot to do with their tails?

Researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder have been studying how kangaroos move for 14 years. Their most recent study looked at how a kangaroo's tail functions while it walks.

"What we discovered was just how much they use it for propulsion," said Rodger Kram, a physiologist at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Scientists studied kangaroos as they walked on special platforms that are able to sense vertical, backward, and forward forces from the legs and tails.

"The tail of the kangaroo acts maybe a bit like an accordion in that it's changing its shape," and "In order to push the animal forward, the tail has to straighten," explained Kram.

Scientists previously thought kangaroos used their tails for balance or support as they walked. But the new research shows they use their tails like an extra leg to propel themselves. In fact, the tail provides more power to help them move than their front and hind legs combined.

Ecologist and zoo keeper at the Denver Zoo, Andrew Haertzen, sees the tail in action every day.

"Every time they walk out, they’re using that tail," said Haertzen.

Researchers hope to use their findings to help understand more about the human gait or better design robotic devices in the future.

Get Inside The Science:

New Study Involving CU-Boulder Tells The Tale Of A Kangaroo's Tail

Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado Boulder

Rodger Kram, University of Colorado, Boulder

Author Bio & Story Archive

Marsha Lewis is a freelance producer based in California.  She has won 11 National Telly Awards and nine Regional Emmy Awards for her work in local and national syndicated news.

I’ve dedicated my time to reporting and producing stories focused on medical, science and technology. I created a nationally award winning series dedicated to promoting women and their great accomplishments.  Now I’ve taken that expertise outside the traditional TV news format and broadened the viewership to people around the world.