Over the past few years, images have circulated of kangaroos sitting in shallow water with their heads above the surface, seemingly inviting you in for a beer to chill. Unfortunately, this is Australia we’re talking about, so a betting person would say that it’s trying to kill you in one way or another.
Following the viral images, various social media users have come out and said that this is actually a tactic to do just that: kangaroos will try to lure predators into the water before using their impressive strength to force their heads underwater and drown them. As an animal with few clear defense mechanisms, this would be an ingenious way to tilt the scales in the kangaroo’s favor.
But is it true – are kangaroos actively trying to bait you into the water for a deadly swim? No one truly knows, but it is possible.
Kangaroos have been recorded doing this behavior in the past, but not with humans. These animals are not predatory, instead happy to munch on their diet of grass, leaves, and flowers while they roam the Australian wilderness. To actively lie in the water waiting for a chance to kill an unsuspecting human would be completely out of their typical behavior. They won’t eat us, and while they can be territorial, it seems unlikely that they would attempt such a premeditated murder on a human.
However, predators, and animals that look like predators (namely dogs), are a different story. Kangaroos have been recorded running to water when threatened and big males have drowned dogs in the past in exactly this way.
"There's a very strong instinct – kangaroos will go to water if they're threatened by a predator," said kangaroo ecologist Graeme Coulson, University of Melbourne, in an interview with NBC News.
"In the case of a big male, they can definitely drown dogs. If the dog swims out to them, they've got strong arms and big claws and they can drown [the dog]."
Dr Coulson even said that he had a neighbor who lost two dogs in this way. But while kangaroos may have been recorded drowning animals, it is not necessarily a fight instinct – it is significantly more likely to be flight. Herbivores will typically run into water when chased by a predator, and kangaroos are probably trying to do just that, but once followed, the situation may become more sinister.
If a kangaroo really wants to fight, it will typically attempt to use its powerful back legs to kick the threat while trying to drive its claws into whatever it makes contact with. There have been recorded deaths as a result of such attacks, although these are incredibly rare, making it significantly more likely that running to water is more of an escape attempt than a mastermind murder strategy.
Still, we wouldn’t get in the water with one. Not worth it.