Is That Wallaby Sprouting a Second Head?
Last week, the first baby wallaby to be born at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in three decades poked its head out of its mother’s pouch
Animal keepers at the National Zoo’s small mammal house surely did a double-take last Monday, March 11, when they were greeted with a charming sight—a small, pink face peering out of abdomen of one of the zoo’s newest wallabies, Victoria.
Though the zookeepers had noticed movement in animal’s pouch several weeks ago, and had observed the mother opening it up to check on her infant, this was the first time the hairless joey snuck a peek at the outside world, surveying its surroundings while cozily enveloped in its mother’s soft, silver fur. "It’s always fun to have a springtime birth for the Zoo, and I think it shows that we are really taking care of them, because they’re all new to the Zoo, and the birth shows that the animals are really comfortable and really like their space. It’s a pretty exciting time for everyone here," says zookeeper Kenton Kerns.
This was cause to celebrate—as well as the first joey for parents Sydney and Victoria, the pup is the first Bennet’s wallaby born at the Zoo since 1989. Bennet’s wallabies are marsupials of the genus Macropus, meaning “long foot.” They’re a part of the same taxonomic family as kangaroos, and at just three-feet tall and weighing 30- to 40-pounds at maturity, they look like stouter and furrier versions of their bulkier cousins.
Found in Tasmania and eastern Australia, Bennet’s wallabies are sometimes nicknamed “red-necked wallabies” due to the rust-colored fur on their shoulders and neck. Wallabies gestate for just 29 days, and when the pup is born it typically weighs less than an ounce.
The newborns are blind but manage to pull themselves into the pouch and immediately find the mother’s nipple for milk. Wallabies can have and care for up to three joeys at once—one in the uterus, one in the pouch and one outside of the pouch—so Victoria could potentially be pregnant with another already.
The joeys grow up fast—by nine months old, they spend all their time outside the pouch—so don’t wait to go visit the National Zoo’s newest addition. The keepers expect the little joey will start seeking a life beyond the pouch in just one or two months. “As of now the joey has mostly been making itself known in the morning, and it’s not for super long amounts of time," says keeper Esther Wray. "Visitors should expect to see the joey, but we do encourage people to come and check them out and see if they can spot it."