Have you ever seen a desert kangaroo rat? My daughter is learning about habitats in science. While we were taking our habitat safari for the desert, she discovered the kangaroo rat. And immediately fell in love with it! But it’s not small wonder. This cute rodent with kangaroo like legs and enormous eyes looks more like a toy than anything else. But it’s actually a very fascinating little mammal.
The kangaroo rat is actually not closely related to rats or mice. It’s most closely related to the gopher. Most varieties of this cute creature are sand colored with a white underbelly, allowing it to blend in with its environment, the sandy desert. It has small ears and enormous eyes. A long tail allows it to balance and steer while jumping. It also has a pouch like a kangaroo, but not on its belly. Its pouch is actually a fur lined compartment on its cheeks!
This little mammal uses that compartment to store its primary food source – seeds. It can keep them for several weeks there while it is searching for a suitable place to make its burrow. Then, seeds are stored in caches around the burrow and in a food storage room inside the burrow as well. Kangaroo rats have also been seen eating insects and plant material, but their primary diet is seeds.
The burrows themselves are created in sandy soil. They will not build a home in shifting sand, so usually they are built underneath bushes. A burrow can be up to four and half feet deep and several feet long with multiple entrances. The desert kangaroo rat will actually seal the entrances in very hot weather during the day. One rat will live in each burrow, with the exception of a mother with her young.
These animals are very solitary. The burrows may be close together, but they each prefer to have their own. A mother usually has between 4-6 young which mature in just a few weeks. They do talk to each other by drumming their feet, chattering their teeth, and vocalizations such as growls and squeals.
The most amazing thing about these little creatures? They do not need to drink water. They can get all the water they need from their diet. Also, they are very good at conserving water by only being active in cooler nights. They also do not sweat or pant. And, their urinary system has developed so they can eliminate waste with very little liquid required.
Kangaroo rats are found in desert regions in the southwestern United States. Some species are considered pests as they can have fleas. They are not endangered and thrive in areas where humans have trouble living. They do have a lot of predators, but their powerful back legs allow them to leap up to nine feet to escape attack. They also have very sensitive hearing allowing them to detect the near silent flight of an owl overhead.
Desert kangaroo rats are cute little desert animals. But they definitely are not pets, no matter how much my daughter may ask for them.
Picture courtesy of USFWS Pacific Southwest Region via Flickr.