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Uploaded:2018-09-08
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This small animal might seem like a run-of-the-mill rodent at first, but it’s huge back legs can produce kicks hard enough to let it rumble with rattlesnakes looking for a meal.

Video of Kangaroo rats kicking snakes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZdBe7-OsMU

Hosted by: Olivia Gordon

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Sources:
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1034/j.1600-0706.2000.910113.x
http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1994-28400-001
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780121518080500125
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1034/j.1600-0706.2000.910113.x
https://academic.oup.com/biolinnean/article-abstract/122/3/651/4161551
https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003347217301793
http://rsif.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/15/144/20180303
http://jeb.biologists.org/content/140/1/243.short

Images:
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Crotalus_cerastes_mesquite_springs_CA.JPG
https://npgallery.nps.gov/AssetDetail/d91ef6651b2247afa21e2d9a2282a48b
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Dipodomys-deserti.jpg
[♩INTRO].

You may not think much of the desert kangaroo rat. This small animal with its large back legs might seem like a run of the mill rodent at first.

But don’t let its modest appearance fool you. Kangaroo rats are mighty beasts that don’t think twice about kicking deadly rattlesnakes in the face. The kangaroo rat lives a simple life.

By day, it builds burrows in the sand. By night, it forages for seeds to store in those burrows. And when it does, it has to avoid predators.

Lots of predators. The rat’s flesh is sought by coyotes, foxes, hawks, owls and snakes, including the sidewinder rattlesnake. You know, the one that does the crazy dance across sand?

Yeah, that guy. And they’re especially hard to avoid. That’s because they’re ambush predators that lay in wait at the best seed spots.

They have thermal vision, sharp fangs, a potent venom, and can deliver a strike in a tenth of a second! Luckily, desert kangaroo rats have evolved special countermeasures. This kind of arms race, when two closely interacting species influence how the other evolves, is called co-evolution.

Take the snakes thermal vision, for example. To get around that, a kangaroo rat can drop its surface body temperature, especially around the feet and ears, and make itself less noticeable. It may also drum one or both of its feet, letting the snake know that it’s ambush is ruined.

And if that’s not enough to deter the snake, the desert kangaroo rat still has tricks up its sleeve...or..well...pants? It’s most valuable assets are its huge back legs which can propel the 10-centimeter rat up to 3 meters away! Kangaroo rats have disproportionately large muscles, tendons and bones, which they need to generate and withstand the forces of their jumps because unlike their larger namesake, their big tendons and muscles don’t act like springs.

Jumps are made with pure muscular power. That means more stress to the leg bones and muscles, but the rat doesn’t have to get in a particular position to leap. And that allows it to react quickly.

An alert kangaroo rat can react in as little as 8 milliseconds, and leap its whole body away in about 50 roughly one-half the time it takes for the snake to lash out. And it doesn’t even need to see the snake coming. Kangaroo rats have specially modified inner ears, which allow them to hear when a strike happens in complete darkness.

They can also use those legs to kick sand at the snake’s face, or just kick the snake outright. A powerful blow can stun the would-be predator, allowing the rat to make its escape. And whether kicking or jumping, the rats have a huge advantage.

When scientists have watched these battles play out in the wild, only 1 in 23 strikes results in a win for the snake. Of course, the sidewinders haven’t completely lost this evolutionary arms race. Scientists think they can detect the rats’ change in temperature, for example.

If they realize the element of surprise is gone, they can save their energy for a more unsuspecting meal. But, at least for now, the kangaroo rats seem have a jump on things. Thanks for watching this episode of Scishow!

If you are impressed by these feisty rats, you might like our episode on boss invertebrates that take out vertebrates. And if you want to make sure you see all our awesome animal videos, be sure to click that subscribe button! [♩OUTRO].