Kangaroo Rat Facts | Behavior, Diet, Habitat, Reproduction

The kangaroo rat (Dipodomys) is a small rodent species adapted to living in arid habitats. It has long been admired for its dumpy little body and small rounded ears. Unique among its ability is that kangaroo rat is able to convert seeds it eats into water and thus it makes up the deficiency of water.

Kangaroo Rat Facts  


  • The adult kangaroo rat weighs between 33 – 195 grams (1.2 – 6.9 oz). Prominent among its features is rat’s tail which the animal uses to maintain balance during hopping. The length of the tail is always greater than the entire body length.
  • The total length of the kangaroo rat is about 6 – 12 inches including tail. The body length grows to about 3.5 to 5.5 inches (8 -14 cm) with the tail averages 6.5 inches (16 cm) in length.
  • They have got 1.5-inch long hind feet.
  • Rats have large glowing eyes.
  • They are 2 – 4 inches high at the shoulder.
  • Kangaroo rats possess fur-lined cheeked pouches which it uses to store food.
  • The color of the body ranges from buff, off-white to dark grey to creamy appearance.
  • The smallest kangaroo rat is the Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat (D. merriami).
  • Banner-tailed Kangaroo Rats (D. spectabilis) is the largest kangaroo rat species.


  • Kangaroo rats typically occur in the arid regions of the southwestern and western United States. California is home to 22 kangaroo rat species.
  • Ord’s Kangaroo Rat (D. ordii) has the widespread distribution ranging from Rocky Mountains, southern Canada to as far as central Mexico.
  • Two of the species occur in the Great Basin Desert.
kangaroo rat facts
Kangaroo Rat hopping ©bigbendnational.wikispaces.com


  • Merriam’s kangaroo rat is likely to survive in humid habitats receiving less rainfall where the temperature goes high in summer.
  • Depending on the species, kangaroo rats are found from just above the sea level to as high as 4,500 feet.
  • They will make homes in a variety of habitats such as stony soils, rocks, gravel, creosote bush flats, chaparral, rocky hillsides, and clays. Since Merriam’s kangaroo rat lives in drier areas, they must conserve water for later use.
  • Heteromys is known to live in the tropical wet forests.
  • Banner-tailed kangaroo rats primarily make homes in scrublands and grasslands. They seem to spend the day in a closed burrow system.

Feeding Ecology & Diet

  • Kangaroo rats are seed-eater rodents but they also consume ocotillo, creosote bush, grama grass, and purslane. They supplement their diet with succulents, green vegetation, insects, and grasses.
  • They will collect large amount of seeds, put them together near burrows to dump them later in pit caches. These caches are 1 inch deep. Kangaroo rats cover the caches with dry dirt. They do this in order to make the seeds dry.
  • They must collect as much seeds as possible and deposit all in caches.
kangaroo rat facts
Stephens’ Kangaroo Rat in its burrow ©latimesblogs.latimes.com


  • They are solitary creatures.
  • Kangaroo rats are able to leap a distance of 6 feet with the maximum distance recorded at 9 feet (2.75 m).
  • The rat is fairly agile on land moving at a speed of 10 km/h (6 mph).
  • Not only this, kangaroo rat is capable to change its direction even between jumps. Thanks to the locomotion that prevents the animal from falling prey to predators and also it needs low energy.
  • Kangaroo rats are almost all nocturnal, remain active all year round. Some species are solitary while others are not.
  • Unlike other animals, kangaroo rats do not sweat nor do they pant to keep cool.
  • They are thought to thump or drum their feet down on the ground—a behavior that may warn others of a predator or sometimes to claim a territory. By doing so, they generate seismic or airborne signals. Kangaroo rats communicate by foot-drumming. This is specifically true in four of the kangaroo rat species; spectabilis, D. ingens, D. deserti, and D. heermanni.
  • Over the years, they have evolved an effective way to defend it against potential predators like snakes. When confronted a snake, kangaroo rats do not avoid it rather they jump back and foot-drum within short distance. Desert kangaroo rat may also kick sand at the snake to move it away.
  • Kangaroo rats will also take sandbathe during which it rubs the ventrum and sides in soils.
  • They make burrows not only for storing food but also for sleeping. Besides, they also seek protection in burrows from harsh desert environment. These burrows have entrances that may be big or small depending on the number of kangaroo rats and the abundance of food.
  • Kangaroo rats live in colonies that consist of six to as many as hundred individuals.
  • Adult male rats are far more aggressive than females.

Reproductive Biology

  • In summer, the mating season of kangaroo rats goes high particularly when it receives heavy rainfall.
  • If the food becomes scarce then only a few females will breed.
  • Kangaroo rats one of the few animals that understand their surroundings because their reproductive efforts are affected.
  • The mating period of Merriam’s kangaroo rats ranges from February to May. A female gives birth to 2 – 3 babies each year.
  • The gestation period lasts 3 – 4 weeks.
  • The burrows are lined with some dry sand and fur where females produce litters. Kangaroo rats are completely naked and blind at birth.
  • The baby rat continues to crawl until when it reaches 3-weeks age. When they are three weeks old the young develops hind legs. Few days later, they will become independent.
  • The weaning period for banner-tail kangaroo rats is 22 – 25 days.
  • The young rats stay in the mound for about 150 – 180 days.
  • The average lifespan of kangaroo rats is 2 – 5 years in the wild.
  • They have a birth interval of 4 – 6 months
  • Predators of rats include coyotes, ringtail, bobcats, foxes, owls, snakes, and badgers.

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