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What Is a Kangaroo Rat?

By Judith Smith Sullivan
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A kangaroo rat is a small, nocturnal rodent found in the western and southwestern deserts of the United States. It resembles a chipmunk, except that it has a long, thin tail. Its name derives from its ability to hop on its hind feet, using its tail to balance. These nocturnal animals eat mainly seeds and drink little water. Each rat occupies a single den, which is one of their defenses against predators.

The average size of the rodent is usually less than 12 inches (30 cm), including the length of the tail, and weighs less than 6 ounces (170 grams). The coat of the rat is golden or light brown, and its markings differ from species to species. It has a relatively short lifespan, rarely exceeding five years. Like most rodents, it can squeak, growl, and make a chuckling sound.

The diet of the kangaroo rat consists mainly of seeds and to a lesser extent, grasses and insects. One of the marvels of kangaroo rats is that they can survive without ever drinking water. They get all the water they need from the seeds they consume. The kangaroo rat's body is extremely efficient at processing food, using very little water in elimination of waste. They also do not sweat or pant.

Kangaroo rats are burrowing creatures. Each den is only occupied by a single rat, which typically has a territory of about 0.50 acres (0.2 hectares). Dens can be quite extensive, considering the size of the rat, with of depth of up to 4.5 feet (1.4 meters) under the ground and six to 12 entrances.

The rats spend the entire day in the hot, humid den and only come out at night when it is cooler. The gather and eat seeds at night time and frequently bring seeds back to their den. They can store seeds in the pouches in their mouth.

Female kangaroo rats gestate for about one month before giving birth. They have up to three litters per year, usually with two pups, but can have as many as seven. At three to four weeks of age, the pups are weaned. At 12 to 13 weeks, kangaroo rats are sexually mature.

There are a variety of predators which prey on kangaroo rats. Not only larger land mammals, like coyotes, bobcats, and badgers, but also snakes and owls. The kangaroo rat has few defenses, other than its burrow, which can be invaded, and its ability to leap. Typically, the kangaroo rat is able to avoid its predators.

In some areas, the kangaroo rat is a pest. They are not endangered, and their numbers are considered plentiful. Like many rodents, the kangaroo rat can have fleas and transfer them to humans.

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