Ring-Tailed Rock Wallaby (Petrogale xanthopus) of Australian Lands "Down Under"

by DerdriuMarriner

The yellow-footed rock wallaby also is called the ring-tailed rock wallaby. Both names recognize the wallaby's hallmark features. Predators and wildfires threaten this Aussie icon.

Alternating colors, appealing patterns, and attractive ballast account for the allure of a ringed-tail.

Color combinations generally acknowledge the upper body’s prevailing hue. The switch typically acts to blend darker or lighter variations of the upper coat or to introduce contrast. A repetition of circles usually comes to mind with a ringed-tail even though a ring-tail may showcase just a differently colored or shaded tip.

Whatever the configuration of colors and patterns, a ringed-tail contributes to anchorage. It encourages balance and sometimes entertains weaponry. If it is prehensile (“able to grasp”), it also functions as a tool for carrying and holding objects.

Australia’s yellow-footed wallaby lays claim to one of the world’s most beautiful examples of a non-prehensile ring-tail.


Wallabies are native to Australia and New Guinea and welcome in zoos worldwide. They belong to the family Macropodidae within the mammalian infraclass Marsupialia. Macropods can be recognized by their long (μακρός, makros) footed (πούς, pous) appearance (εἶδος, eidos). Marsupials distinguish themselves by a frontal pouch (μαρσύπιον, marsupion) for carrying their young and their possession of longer hind limbs than forelimbs. They do not restrict their ranks to macropods since marsupials include among their numbers:

  • Bandicoots;
  • Bettongs;
  • Bilbies;
  • Koalas;
  • Numbats;
  • Opossums;
  • Possums;
  • Quolls;
  • Tasmanian devils;
  • Wombats.

In contrast, the term macropod does apply to such fellow marsupials as:

  • Kangaroos;
  • Wallaroos.

The ring-tailed, yellow-footed rock-wallaby emerges as one of the most agile, attractive examples of the macropodal marsupial.


Not all wallabies are found in the exact same habitats. The wallaby that accepts sylvan lifestyles in the forest carries one of two common names:

  • Dorcopsis (from the ancient Greek words δορκας [dorkas] for “gazelle” and ὄψις [opsis] for “appearance, sight, view”]);
  • Pademelon (from the aboriginal term badimaliyan which the Dharug and Eora peoples of what is nowadays the greater Sydney area used to identify the “small kangaroo of the forest"). 

A hare-wallaby endures the challenges of life in open grasslands whose protective ground cover can be punctuated by sandy desert dunes and plains. The nail-tail wallaby experiences the denser vegetation inherent in grass-, scrub-, shrub- and wood-lands. Rock-wallabies manage to survive in rocky, rugged, steep landscapes. 


Distribution of yellow-footed rock-wallaby

Marsupialia distribution map
Marsupialia distribution map


Ring-tailed, yellow-footed rock-wallabies carry the scientific name Petrogale xanthopus. The genus name Petrogale comes from the combination of the ancient Greek words πέτρα (petra) for “cave, cliff, ledge, ridge” and γαλέη (galeē) for “weasel.” The species name xanthopus derives from the ancient Greek terms ξανϑóς (xanthós) for “yellow” and πούς (pous) for “foot.” Yellow-footed ring-tails owe their niche within the taxonomic system consolidated by Swedish super-scientist Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778) to the scientific expertise of John Edward Gray, FRS (February 12, 1800 – March 7, 1875) in 1855. The Walsall-born zoologist was Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum (1840 – 1874). He was respected for investigations regarding:

  • Fish;
  • Insects;
  • Mammals;
  • Molluscs;
  • Postage stamps;
  • Reptiles.


Modern zoologists accept two subspecies of ring-tailed rock-wallabies. Proper scientific procedure asks for a nominate type species and subspecies. With the equivalent of “poster animal” status, the nominate subspecies gets as a third name a repetition of the species name: Petrogale xanthopus xanthopus. The non-nominate subspecies has the complete trinomial (“three-name”) designation Petrogale xanthopus celeris. The Latin word celeris honors the subspecies as “fast, swift.” It originates in the Latin verb cellō, which means “to impel, to urge forward” and which reflects a borrowing from the ancient Greek word κέλλω (kellō) for “to drive on, to put to harbor, to put to shore.” Variations in geographical distribution and pelt colors separate the two subspecies of ring-tailed rock-wallabies. 


yellow-footed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale xanthopus)

depicted by illustrator and ornithologist John Gould FRS (September 14, 1804 – February 3, 1881)
John Gould, Mammals of Australia (1863), Vol. II Plate 43
John Gould, Mammals of Australia (1863), Vol. II Plate 43


A white stripe running from the dark snout and under the big, dark eyes accentuates the cheeks of both long-, silky-haired subspecies. It brightens the mouth, whose flat-topped, grinding-friendly, low-crowned dental formula is as follows:

  • 3 incisors, 1 canine, 2 premolars, and 4 molars per left and right upper jaw;
  • 1 incisor, 2 premolars, and 4 molars per left and right lower jaw.

A dark streak connects the space between each tawny-backed ear with the mid-back. Clean white and gentle grey-brown respectively cover the under- and upper-sides. Darker and lighter tawny stripes define the brown- or white-tipped tail. A white-streaked tawniness dominates large hind feet, powerful legs, and shortened forearms. Each extremity harbors a dark-tipped, short-clawed paw.


Mature sizes are as follows:

  • Height 3.3 – 4.3 feet (1.01 – 1.31 meters);
  • Length:  head/body 19 – 26 inches (48.26 – 66.04 centimeters); hind foot 4.75 - 6.75 inches (12.1 - 17.14 centimeters); tail 22 – 28 inches (55.9 – 1.12 centimeters);
  • Weight 13 – 26 pounds (5.9 – 11.79 kilograms).

Adults can mate year-round even though embryonic development temporarily halts during:

  • Drought;
  • Joey-occupied frontal pouches.

Generally between April and September, mothers-to-be deliver one furless, 0.5 – 0.75-inch (1.27 – 1.91-centimeter), 0.02-ounce (500-milligram) joey after a 31 – 32-day gestation. The newborn -- blind the first month -- follows maternal saliva trails to frontal pouch-living. Mothers generate two types of milk:

  • In-pouch, 189 – 227 days;
  • Out-of-pouch, 30+ days until weaning.

Sexual maturity occurs at 540 – 590 days. 


yellow-footed rock wallaby with joey

Adelaide Zoo, southeastern South Australia state, south central Australia
Adelaide Zoo, southeastern South Australia state, south central Australia


Ring-tailed rock-wallabies adhere to extended-family living during lifetimes estimated at 3 – 18 years. Related families of a husband, 2 wives, and 3 joeys comprise 20 – 100-member neighborhoods at:

  • Caves;
  • Crevices;
  • Ledges.

They emerge to:

  • Balance with forearms held at right angles and tail serving as anchor;
  • Climb steep cliffs and tree trunks;
  • Drink 10+% of their body weight in 7 minutes during downpours;
  • Eat bark, forbs, fruits, grasses, herbs, roots, shoots, twigs at dawn and dusk;
  • Grind rocks glossy-smooth with their coarse, hair-fringed, rough foot pads;
  • Jump across 12+-foot (3.06+-meter) chasms;
  • Stand rigidly while stamping their feet to communicate invasions and threats;
  • Sunbathe.

Alone among mammals, ring-tails know how to transfer water from one mouth to another.


Some specialists accept a total ring-tail population of 2,000. Within an estimated 386-square mile (999.74-square kilometer) range, female and male ring-tailed rock-wallabies appreciate respectively overlapping home ranges of:

  • 225 – 437 acres (91.05 – 176.85 hectares) in summer and 239 – 568 acres (96.72 – 229. 86 hectares) in winter;
  • 467 – 568 acres (188.99 – 229.86 hectares) in summer and 427 – 494 acres (172.80 – 199.91 hectares) in winter.

The collective well-being of ring-tailed, yellow-footed wallaby populations asks for habitats which guarantee:

  • Abundance of bendee and mulga (Acacia spp) leaf litter, forbs (Sida filiformis), rock sedges (Scleria sphacelata), and tufted grasses (Sporobolus caroli);
  • Conglomerate, granite, limestone or sandstone rocky outcrops;
  • Sources of permanent freshwater within 3 miles (4.82 kilometers) of the family home. 


conservation and protection of yellow-footed wallaby:

In 1979, 100 km², in the Coturaundee Ranges, now part of Mutawintji National Park, were purchased and fenced by Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife.
Mutawintji National Park
Mutawintji National Park



The ring-tailed rock-wallaby’s nominate subspecies considers as home:

  • Buckaringa Wildlife Sanctuary as well as Flinders, Gawler and Olary Ranges in central and eastern South Australia;
  • Coturaundee and Gap Ranges as well as Mootwingee National Park in western New South Wales.

The second subspecies, Petrogale xanthopus celeris -- whose pelage expresses paler colors and whose tail is less distinctly banded -- still colonizes the Adavale Basin in southwestern Queensland. The spatially distinct geographical distribution nevertheless offers similar life-threatening challenges:

  • Competition from domesticated, introduced and wild goats, rabbits and sheep;
  • Death in wildfires;
  • Predation from dingoes (Canis lupus dingo), European foxes (Vulpes vulpes), and wedge-tailed eagles (Aquila audax).

Fortunately, private and public endeavors merge to preserve Australia’s ring-tailed rock-wallabies.


depicted by illustrator and ornithologist John Gould FRS (September 14, 1804 – February 3, 1881)
John Gould, Mammals of Australia (1863), Vol. II Plate 44
John Gould, Mammals of Australia (1863), Vol. II Plate 44



My special thanks to talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the internet.


Petrogale xanthopus: Depiction by German natural history illustrator Joseph Wolf Joseph (January 21, 1820 – April 20, 1899);

Imprint by M. & N. Hanhart, London lithographic publishing house founded by Michael Hanhart (1788 – 1865) and Nicholas Hanhart
Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, Vol. 1, Plate XXXIX
Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, Vol. 1, Plate XXXIX

Sources Consulted


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Copley, P.; Ellis, M.; and van Weenen, J. 2008. "Petrogale xanthopus." In: IUCN 2008. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. Retrieved on February 20, 2014. 

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Davey, Keith. 2005. "Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby: Petrogale xanthopus." Keith Davey Photo-graphic. Retrieved on February 20, 2014. 

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Department of the Environment. 2014. "Petrogale xanthopus xanthopus: Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby (SA and NSW)." Species Profile and Threats Database. Canberra: Australian Government. Retrieved on February 20, 2014.

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Steinle, Alison. 2003. "Yellow-footed Rock-wallaby: Petrogale xanthopus (On-line). Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Retrieved on February 20, 2014. 

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Wilson, Don E.; and Reeder, DeeAnn M., eds. 1993. Mammal Species of the World: A Taxonomic and Geographic Reference, Third Edition. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.  

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"Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby: Petrogale xanthopus."  P. 97 in Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Second Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, Inc. division of Thomson Learning Inc., 2004. 

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Monarto Zoo, southeastern South Australia state, south central Australia
Monarto Zoo, southeastern South Australia state, south central Australia
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

pair of yellow-footed rock wallabys, Flinders Ranges, South Australia state: jigsaw puzzle of photo by Nicholas Birks

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle: Yellow-footed rock wallaby~Ardea Wildlife Pets

yellow-footed rock wallaby, South Australia: jigsaw puzzle from photo by John Cancalosi

10x14 Photo Puzzle with 252 pieces. Packed in black cardboard box 5 5/8 x 7 5/8 x 1 1/5. Puzzle image 5x7 affixed to box top.
Photo Jigsaw Puzzle of Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby from Ardea Wildli...

yellow-footed rock wallaby with joey, Idalia National Park, Queensland, Australia

photo by Mitch Reardon
Yellow Footed Rock-Wallaby (Petrogale Xanthopus), Idalia National Park, Queensland, Australia

A Federally Endangered Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby at the Henry Doorly Zoo, Omaha, Nebraska

photo by Joel Sartore
A Federally Endangered Yellow-Footed Rock Wallaby at the Henry Doorly Zoo

Me and my purrfectly purrfect Maine coon kittycat, Augusta "Gusty" Sunshine

Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved
Updated: 10/19/2021, DerdriuMarriner
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DerdriuMarriner on 09/30/2015

Mira, I try not to scrutinize feeding chains and food webs too closely when it comes to adorable animals!

Mira on 09/30/2015

Wallabies are so cute! I especially liked that photo with the joey (new word for me) in the marsupium. I'm surprised at their land distribution though. I would have expected their habitat to be much larger.
P.S. Sad to learn they fall prey to dingoes!

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