Kangaroo Rat

Kangaroo Rat at the base of a prickly pear cactus
Kangaroo Rat

NPS Photo

Despite its name and mouse-like appearance, the Kangaroo rat is neither a rat or a mouse. The Kangaroo rat is a member of the heteromyidae family, with its closest relative being the pocket gopher.

Kangaroo rats have long tails and larger hind feet with only four toes. Their eyes are very large, while their ears are incredibly small. Kangaroo Rats are small, weighing up to 4.5 ounces, which is about the weight of granola bar. Their fur is a yellowish-brown with a white belly, while the tail has a noticeable white tip.

Kangaroo rat tend to live in the desert flatlands, creosote flats, and the sandy soils of the desert washes. The rats burrow into the soil to better survive the sometimes harsh desert environment.

Kangaroo rats are mostly seed eaters, eating mostly mesquite beans and grass seeds. Occasionally the Kangaroo rat can be seen eating small insects. Kangaroo rats will forage and collect seeds at night, storing seeds and beans in their cheek pouches. Extra seeds are stored in their burrows where the seeds can absorb up to 30 percent more moisture.

Kangaroo Rats have long tails to increase their balance and large hind legs for jumping long distances
Kangaroo rats have powerful hind legs and a long tail for balance.

NPS Photo

Kangaroo rats are masters of desert survival. Their bodies have developed amazing adaptations that reduce the amount of water needed and the amount of water that is lost.

Even though their diet consists of mostly dry seeds, the Kangaroo rat has almost no need for water. Instead they survive almost entirely on the water metabolized from seeds that are eaten. Kangaroo rats can extract a half gram of water out of every gram of seeds consumed. Their kidneys reduce and concentrate their urine to almost a crystal-like consistency, greatly reducing the amount of water that is lost. Kangaroo Rats don't even need water to bathe. Instead they will take a dust bath by rolling around in the sand.

Kangaroo rats have adaptations that allow them to detect and escape predators easily. They have massive hind legs, that allow the Kangaroo Rat to jump nine feet at a time, allowing it to escape fast and sneaky animals. The Kangaroo rat has an extremely good sense of hearing that allows the rat to detect the approach of the quiet owls and snakes.

Last updated: June 24, 2018

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