Meet the tiniest rock-wallaby on Earth
Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
MEET THE MONJON (Petrogale burbidgei) – the smallest of all known species of rock-wallaby in in the world. Stretching just 30 cm long and weighing around 1.3 kg, these diminutive little creatures weigh less than a Chihuahua.
Seriously, just look at this thing.
Monjons are very rarely seen, with a very limited range in one of the most remote parts of Australia. They’re only found in the coastal Kimberley region of Western Australia, and on the islands of the nearby Bonaparte Archipelago.
Scientists didn’t even know they existed until about 40 years ago, when one was found in the Kimberley’s King Leopold Ranges area. Since then they’ve been teetering towards a ‘vulnerable’ status, and they’re so shy, it makes it very difficult for researchers to know much of anything about them.
In fact, we’re not even sure what the remaining population is.
But what we do know is that, just like the other rock wallabies, these little guys are the acrobats of the marsupial world. Not only can they climb almost vertical rock faces in ways that appear to defy gravity, they’re also capable of scaling trees using their sharp claws and strong back legs.
Just imagine spotting one of these guys looking down on you from a tree branch.
Their goat-like ability to bound up and around sheer cliff faces is thanks to the unusually thick and spongy pads on the bottom of their feet, which compress on the rock surfaces and maximise their grip. And their long, flexible tails, (which in the Monjon end in a lovely little tuft), act as a counterbalance and a rudder, allowing them to change direction in mid-air.
Rock wallabies might look fragile, but they’re one of Australia’s greatest survivors. They’re the most diverse genus of all the macropods on Earth (the group that includes kangaroos, wallabies, tree-kangaroos, pademelons, quokkas, and several others), with species ranging from 1 kg (our Monjon friend) to 12 kg.
Their closest relative today? The tree kangaroo, which explains why if you want to try and spot a Monjon, you’ve gotta remember to look up.