Swamp wallaby: black panther down under?

Name: Swamp wallaby (Wallabia bicolor)

Size: Tails 64-86 cm long. Males are 70-85 cm (head and body) and 12-20 kg, and females 65-75 cm (head and body) and 10-15 kg.

Diet: They are generalist browsers, feeding largely on stems and leaves of shrubs and forbs (flowering herbaceous plants). But they will also eat grasses, vines, seedlings, ferns, sedges, and fungi.

Habitat/range: They are found in forests, shrublands, heath and woodlands along eastern Australia, except Tasmania – from Cape York in the north, to Victoria in the south, and in the east of South Australia.

Conservation status: Least Concern (IUCN).

Superpower/fun fact: Their long black tails, dark colouration, and crouched over position when hopping means they’re likely responsible for many of Australia’s ‘black panther’ sightings.

Swamp wallaby hopping across the road
Swamp wallaby crossing the road at Tower Hill nature reserve, Victoria. Credit: Lea Scaddan/Getty Images

If you’ve walked through a forest or woodland in eastern Australia and seen a rather stout wallaby, with dark grey, black, and chocolate-coloured notes, bounding off into the bushes, then you’ve almost certainly come across a swamp wallaby. They are one of Australia’s most common and adaptable macropods, living in a remarkable variety of habitats, from the freezing alpine zone, to dark, wet forests, dry open woodlands, tropical savannas, and semi-arid shrublands and heathlands. Occasionally they’ll even take to major roads for their daily commute, like ‘Syd’, the swamp wallaby that crossed the Sydney Harbour bridge.

The swamp wallaby’s wide distribution is reflected in their genetic and morphological diversity too, with as many as five sub species recognised. This includes a golden form (W. b. welsbyi) that occurs on islands in Moreton Bay and adjacent areas of coastal south-east Queensland. Swamp wallabies are largely nocturnal and solitary animals, but may be found in aggregations when feeding in open areas. They also come together to breed, which can occur throughout the year. In contrast to most, possibly all marsupials, the gestation period is longer than the oestrous cycle, meaning overlapping pregnancies and a steady stream of baby swamp wallabies can be produced.

A swamp wallaby mother with a joey in her pouch
A Swamp Wallaby (Wallabia bicolor) and her baby joey. Credit: David Cunningham/Getty Images

Affectionately known to many as ‘swampies’ – rather unkindly by others as the ‘black stinker’ – this species also helps to maintain the vital role of cycling nutrients and spreading fungi throughout ecosystems. Many of Australia’s digging and mycophagous (fungi-eating) mammals have been driven to extinction or are now very uncommon, occurring in a small proportion of their once wide distributions. Bettong, potoroo, and bandicoot species have all suffered heavy losses, largely due to predation by feral cats and foxes. But in many areas where these species have sadly disappeared, the much larger swamp wallaby persists.

These hopping foodies with a taste for the finer things in life, including truffles, are known to consume and spread fungi over many hundreds of metres. This helps to maintain mutualistic plant-fungal associations and healthy ecosystems. There’s nothing stinky about that, so jump to it and show your support for a swampy today!

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