Kangaroos are iconic Australian marsupials that carry their young in pouches. You may have heard claims that mother kangaroos will throw their babies out of their pouches at predators to save themselves. But is this actually true?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: No, kangaroos do not purposefully throw their joeys at predators. This is a myth.

In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the reasons why kangaroos don’t throw their babies, examine evidence behind the myth, look at kangaroo defense behaviors, and explain why the misconception persists.

Why Kangaroos Don’t Throw Their Joeys

Maternal Instincts and Bonds

Kangaroos have very strong maternal instincts and form close bonds with their offspring. From the moment of birth, a mother kangaroo (“doe”) is highly protective and caring towards her joey. She keeps the underdeveloped joey safe in her pouch as it continues to grow after birth.

This illustrates the care and affection shared between a kangaroo mother and baby rather than aggression.

Research shows that the maternal bond between kangaroos and their joeys probably persists for their entire lifetimes. Females reach maturity at 4 years old but often stay with their mothers until 6-8 years old.

This evidence contradicts the idea of a mother kangaroo readily abandoning or harming her joey.

Joey Development Requirements

Joeys require extensive care from their mothers to survive, especially early in life. Newborn joeys are about the size of a jellybean, blind, hairless, and very vulnerable. They complete most development sheltered in the safety of their mother’s pouch over 9-10 months.

Throwing a tiny, undeveloped joey would almost certainly result in its death. Joeys rely completely on their mother’s protection, milk, warmth and transportation in the pouch in the first year after birth. A joey forcibly separated from its mother would likely perish.

Defense Behaviors

Kangaroos do display defensive behaviors to distract predators, but throwing joeys is not one of them. Their strategies focus on leading danger away from joeys through:

  • Stomping their large feet to warn predators with heavy thumps and thuds
  • Boxing predators with powerful kicks
  • Fleeing quickly on strong hind legs
  • Zigzag hopping to confuse chasing predators

Additionally, mothers may drop older joeys from the pouch who are then able to flee quickly on their own. But newborn joeys are essentially immobile without their mother’s protection and transportation.

Records show kangaroos adjusting a joey’s position in the pouch by mouth during flight but never intentionally ejecting them.

Kangaroo Defense Behavior Function
Stomping feet Warning signal and distraction using noise and vibration
Boxing predators Powerful blows to defend and disorient threats
Fleeing quickly Escape danger through speed and agility
Zigzag hopping Confuse chasing predators
Dropping older joeys Allow more mature joeys chance to run away

Origins of the Myth

Misinterpretations of Defense Behaviors

The myth that kangaroos throw their babies at predators likely arose from misinterpretations of the species’ defensive behaviors. When frightened by a potential threat, mother kangaroos may push their joeys out of the pouch and down to the ground.

This gets the vulnerable youngster out of harm’s way and allows the mother to flee or fight back more effectively. To someone unfamiliar with marsupials, this could look like the kangaroo is hurling her baby at the predator.

In reality, she is just trying to give her joey its best chance of survival by removing it from immediate danger.

Kangaroos may also thump the ground forcefully with their large hind legs when alarmed. This serves to warn the predator that the kangaroo is aware of its presence and ready to defend itself. The dramatic thumping displays could give the impression that the animal is throwing its baby away in a panic.

When in fact, it is signaling its readiness to confront rather than flee from the threat.

Sensationalism in Media

The idea of a mother callously tossing her helpless offspring at an attacker is shocking to human sensibilities. This vivid but inaccurate notion has been perpetuated through sensationalized media portrayals of kangaroo behaviors.

Certain nature documentaries, children’s cartoons, and alarmist news reports have depicted panicked kangaroo mothers heaving their babies into the jaws of wild dogs or dingoes. These dramatic scenes tend to stick in public memory, though they misrepresent the animals’ actual defensive reactions.

Once established, the myth feeds into enduring stereotypes of kangaroos as bizarre creatures from a strange upside-down continent. Tales of the backwards marsupials that throw their babies at predators seem to confirm suspicions that Australian wildlife is exceptionally weird and dangerous.

The persistence of the myth reflects a combination of nature filmmakers playing loose with the facts to heighten drama, and an ongoing human tendency to view unfamiliar animals as alien or inferior.

Kangaroo Defense Strategies and Behaviors

Fight Response

Kangaroos are well known for their powerful hind legs and impressive leaping abilities, but they also utilize their strong legs and large feet for self-defense. When threatened, kangaroos will stand up on their hind legs and kick out powerfully with their clawed feet.

These kicks can be dangerous weapons, capable of disemboweling or knocking predators unconscious. Male kangaroos are especially well equipped for fighting, using their muscular tails for balance as they kick and grapple with opponents.

Fatalities are rare, but kangaroos can and do inflict severe lacerations on unwary dogs and humans who get too close. It’s best not to approach or corner a kangaroo – give them space and you’re likely to avoid being on the receiving end of their formidable back legs.

Flight Response

While capable fighters, kangaroos prefer flight over fight when possible. Their powerful hind legs allow them to leap distances of over 30 feet in a single bound and quickly reach speeds over 35 miles per hour, enabling rapid escape from predators.

Kangaroos live in open habitats like brushland and grassland in part because it accommodates their escape strategy. The open terrain with sparse vegetation allows them to spot approaching predators from a distance and flee quickly.

Kangaroos can maintain a fast bouncing hop for long distances and quickly drain a pursuing dog’s stamina. Their running gait, balancing on their muscular tail, is energy efficient for covering large distances at high speeds.

While not built for confrontations, kangaroos are beautifully adapted for observant vigilance and swift flight.

Playing Dead

If forced into a physical confrontation, kangaroos may employ a last ditch self-preservation strategy – playing dead. This tactic involves the kangaroo feigning mortal injury to hopefully discourage the predator from continuing its attack.

The kangaroo will flop to the ground with legs and head limp and mouth open and tongue hanging out. This playing dead behavior, also called “playing possum”, is an act of desperation meant to stop imminent danger to the kangaroo’s life.

It takes advantage of the predator’s instinct to disengage attacks on clearly dead prey. For the kangaroo, faking death can provide an opportunity to suddenly spring back to life and hop away to safety.

While playing dead is not a first choice, it can be an effective last resort under threat when fighting or fleeing don’t seem to be options.

Why the Myth Persists

Humans Projecting Behaviors

One reason the myth of kangaroos throwing their babies persists is that we as humans tend to project our own behaviors and emotional capabilities onto animals. We find it hard to imagine a mother that would seem to callously abandon her joey when faced with danger.

However, kangaroos do not have the same emotional complexity that humans do. As marsupials, their reproductive strategy is quite different from placental mammals like us. When faced with a predator, the flight instinct takes over and they use their powerful hind legs to escape, even if that means leaving a joey behind.

Lack of Understanding

Another factor that perpetuates the baby-throwing myth is simply a lack of understanding about kangaroo behavior and biology. To someone unfamiliar with how kangaroos rear their young, seeing a joey left behind while the mother bounds away can look like intentional abandonment.

In reality, joeys have poor mobility early in life and often ride in their mother’s pouch. If a joey gets dislodged in the mother’s panicked escape, it is accidentally separated rather than purposely thrown.

Kangaroos also do not have the same strong mother-infant bonds that some placental mammals exhibit. While female kangaroos do exhibit nurturing behavior towards their young, it is mostly limited to allowing them to nurse until they are capable of self-sufficiency.

This more detached parenting style can seem foreign and uncaring compared to human standards of motherhood.

Memorable Story

Finally, the persistence of the baby-throwing myth can be attributed to the memorable mental image it conveys. The idea of a mother kangaroo flinging her helpless baby at an attacking dingo or other predator is a shocking and unsettling scenario.

This drama and emotional impact makes it much more likely to stick in people’s minds and get repeated. A story that captures the imagination so vividly has power, even if it does not accurately reflect reality.

In truth, when faced with predators, mother kangaroos most often opt to kick powerfully at the attacker with their strong hind legs or attempt to flee rather than staying to defend their joeys. Abandoning offspring under duress may seem ruthless by human metrics of parental care, but it is simply a survival strategy that has evolved over millennia of adaptation by kangaroos and their marsupial relatives to the harsh Australian bush.


As we’ve seen, kangaroos do not purposefully throw their babies at predators despite the prevalence of this myth. They have strong maternal bonds, only limited defensive abilities for their joeys, and no natural instincts that would lead them to harm their offspring.

While misinterpretations of defense behaviors helped originate this myth, its persistence says more about human nature than kangaroo behavior.

Hopefully this article has shed some light on why kangaroos don’t throw their babies. Understand these gentle marsupials a bit better by separating fact from fiction.

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