A series of photographs of a group of Eastern Grey Kangaroos published in newspapers today have been misinterpreted, says Dr Mark Eldridge.

There is a story behind the images, but not the anthropomorphised version of true love that has accompanied the images in publications. The male, which appears to be lovingly "cradling the head" of the female as she dies, is actually in a state of sexual arousal.

"Great photos of the kangaroos, but I think they are fundamentally misinterpreted," Dr Eldridge says.

"The male is clearly highly stressed and agitated, his forearms are very wet from him licking himself to cool down. He is also sexually aroused: the evidence is here sticking out from behind the scrotum (yes, in marsupials the penis is located behind the scrotum)."

Eastern Grey Kangaroos
Eastern Grey Kangaroos. This photograph caused some controversy in Jan 2016 after being interpreted as a male kangaroo 'grieving' for its mate. More likely it was trying to mate with it. Image: Evan Switzer
© Evan Switzer

Kangaroos are extremely sensitive to heat, says Dr Eldridge. Furthermore, the kangaroo is not, unfortunately, "propp[ing] up her head so she could see her joey before she died". Instead, says Dr Eldridge, "this is a male trying to get a female to stand up so he can mate with her."

"Eastern Grey kangaroos can breed throughout the year but mating mainly occurs in spring and early summer. The younger individual is probably the female last pouch young who may be still suckling."