Kids crack me up when I’m working with the wallabies at the zoo. Take two adorable wallaby joeys and add in droves of adorable, curious children- the cuteness is ridiculous!
Wallabies are the size of a lima bean when they are first born. We used to use a dried lima bean to explain this to little kids. Once, I had a little boy walk up to me and pick up the lima bean. He seemed to consider the bean first and then he asked me, “Is this a real baby wallaby?” I said “No, that’s a lima bean, like the ones you eat.” So he ate it! Hah!
Later that same day, I was giving a group of children a lima bean each and explaining to them that they could tell their parents about wallabies and how the lima bean was the same size as a newborn wallaby. Getting to take home a lima bean seemed to thrill these preschool age kids. I heard one little boy run over to his mom excitedly, “Mom! Look! I’m going to plant this and get a baby wallaby!” I’m curious how disappointed he was when he just got more lima beans…
These tiny little lima bean-sized wallabies have a short window of time to make it into the pouch. After only 30 days in the womb, they crawl up their mother (following a path she licks in her fur) and into her pouch- they have around 10 minutes to make the journey before they dry up and fall off. Once inside the pouch, the joey attaches to a nipple which engorges. The now-attached baby stays there and develops. After a few months, they are old enough to venture out of the pouch. A female wallaby is a baby-making machine. She mates as soon as she hits one year and she doesn’t stop for the 15 years she’s typically alive. Usually, she will have one large joey who only sticks his head into the pouch to nurse, a tiny developing joey attached to the other teat, and one she’s holding in her womb! Oh, and if that isn’t enough- she is able to produce two kinds of milk: one high-fat and one-low fat for the two nursing joeys!
Our joeys are usually around 6 to 7 months old when we get them at the zoo. The docents hold them in fleece pouches and we use the interaction with the public to spark an interest in marsupials. Guests really love all the fun wallaby facts and no one can resist touching the joeys gently on their back. I find it extremely therapeutic sitting there holding the joeys. The zookeepers typically give the joeys proper aborigional names, but this year, they ended up with adorable cutesy names, and the visitors love it. I told one little boy that the wallaby was named Munchkin and his eyes got big. He said “I think sometimes that’s my name too!” ;P
Later, I was explaining to a group of kids about how marsupials are born and was describing again how they were the size of lima beans at birth. (This year, we aren’t using the dried beans, but instead a little clay wallaby). After my lengthy explanation, one little girl said, “I get everything you are saying, except, what’s a lima bean?” HAHA! Lucky kid. Whatever happened to parents making their kids eat nasty lima beans?!