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Kangaroo Rat

Last updated date: 28th May 2024
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What is Kangaroo Rat?

Well if you are influenced with the name and think that they must be either rats or kangaroos, then you are definitely wrong. Kangaroo rats are neither rats nor kangaroos, despite their name! These cute furry rodents have adapted well to avert off predators and to cope up with the scorching heat of their desert home.

Though kangaroo rats have mouse-like appearance, it is a member of the heteromyidae family, with its closest relative being the pocket gopher. These cut, furry rodents tend to live in the painted flats, desert flatlands, and the sandy soils of the desert washes. The rats retreat in the soil to better survive the sometimes dissonant desert environment. Kangaroo Rats have long tails to amplify the balance and powerful, huge hind legs for jumping long distances.

Kangaroo rats are majorly the seed eaters, eating mostly grass seeds and mesquite beans. Sometimes, the Kangaroo rat can be observed eating small insects. Kangaroo rats will forage and gather seeds at night, storing seed and beans in their cheek bags. Extra seeds are being stored in their burrows where the seeds tend to absorb up to 30 % more moisture.

Refer to the kangaroo rat diagram below:-

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Kangaroo Rat Quick Characteristics and Description

Kangaroo Rat Facts/ Characteristics


Kangaroo rat scientific name


Other Names

Rat kangaroo, Desert Rat, Desert kangaroo Rat

Most Distinctive Feature

Powerful hind legs

Group Behavior


Number Of Species


Kangaroo rat Habitat




Wild Status

Not an endangered species. The conservation status in the wild is good right now.


Insects like grasshoppers

Young One’s Name

Kitte, Pup or pinkie

Biggest Threat

Habitat destruction

Gestation Period

22 to 27 days

Litter Size

1 to 7 babies, though the average litter consists of 3.

Dietary Habit


Favorite Food

Seeds and grasses. Few species consume insects and other kinds of vegetation.

Kangaroo Rat Physical Characteristics




White, Brown and Dark Grey

Skin Type



Big heads, big eyes with small ears. sandy brown color with a white underbelly.


As long as 14 inches, having an 8-inch tail and 6-inch body. Males are relatively larger than females.


2 to 4 inches at the shoulder


4.5 ounces

Top Speed

5 mph

Age of Sexual Maturity

Around 100 days

Age of Weaning

22 to 25 days


2 to 5 years. Although some huge kangaroo rats have been recognized to live for over 9 years

Amazing Facts about the Kangaroo Rat

  • The kangaroo rat obtained its name as it runs in a bipedal fashion –jumping along on their hind legs like a kangaroo.

  • There are 20 known species of the animalia kangaroo rat.

  • They typically live in desert climates of North America.

  • Kangaroo rats are very good hoppers and can leap up to 9′ feet to avoid and safeguard from predators.

  • Kangaroo rats are well adapted to desert life. They do not sweat, suggesting that they conserve water.

  • Kangaroo rats stay in burrows in order to stay cool during the day and come out at night.

  • They are not required to drink water, having any moisture they require from the seeds they eat.

  • Kangaroo rats have pouches, surprisingly, not for carrying their babies but for food. Their pouches rest on the outside of their cheeks and are literally used for carrying seeds back to their burrows.

  • Kangaroo rats contain pouches in their cheeks in order to transport food back to their burrow.

  • Unlike other animals of the kingdom, Kangaroo Rats don't sweat or pant for the purpose of keeping cool since that would cause them to lose water from their bodies.

Fun Fact about the Kangaroo Rat

  • Merriam’s kangaroo rats actually never have to drink water because of the seeds they eat.

  • Kangaroo rats have very good hearing power that enables them to avoid predators. They are such wonderfully good listeners that they could even hear the beat of owl’s wings and snakes!

Kangaroo Rat Adaptations  

Kangaroo rats are maestros when it comes to desert survival. This rodent is almost perfectly adapted to life in the desert. Their bodies have formed incredible adaptations that decrease the amount of water required and the amount of water that is lost. They have incredible hearing capacity and can even detect the silent sound of an owl coming close. Their large back legs allow them to jump up to 9 feet in one jump in order to escape predators.

Kangaroo Rat Habitat 

Kangaroo rats inhabit a huge desert vocation. These can include open grasslands, open desert scrub, desert washes, sandy soils or creosote flats.

Kangaroo Rat Range

Kangaroo rats are found in the drier regions of the southwestern and western U.S.

Kangaroo Rat Diet

Kangaroo rats consume seeds from a variety of desert grasses and also the mesquite beans. Occasionally, some kangaroo rats will consume green vegetation and some insects.

Even though their diet contains mostly dry seeds, the Kangaroo rat consists of nearly no need for water. Rather they survive almost wholly on the water metabolized from seeds that are consumed. Kangaroo rats can derive a half gram of water out of every gram of seeds eaten. Their kidneys decrease and distill their urine to almost a crystal-like consistency, largely reducing the amount of water that is lost. Let alone drinking, kangaroo rats don't even need water to bathe. Rather, they will take a dust bath just by rolling around in the sand.

Kangaroo Rat Predators

Sadly for the kangaroo rat, it contains many predators. There are various creatures out there that would prefer to make a tasty meal out of this small creature. Owls, snakes, foxes, bobcats, badgers, ringtail, coyotes, and your dog and cat are only a few.

Kangaroo Rats Size

Depending upon the subspecies, kangaroo rats can weigh up to 128 grams (4.5 ounces). The body length of this rodent can be 8 -14 cm (3.5 to 5.5 inches) and their tail can be 14-16 cm (5.5 to 6.5 inches) long.

Presently, there are in total 22 species in that genus. They differ in weight between 35 and 180 grams as well as in size from 10cm to 20cm for adult animals.

Kangaroo rats reside in dry climates. They can inhabit deserts also, like Thar Desert. This implies that they have developed traits to other species that live in similar sorts of climates, but are not linked to them. Several of those species are the jerboas, which can be seen in the deserts of Asia and Africa, and the jumping mice of the Australian Outback.

Kangaroo Color Characteristics

Generally the animals have a color which mixes in nicely with the sandy surroundings. Quite often, they have a tone of dark yellow to deep brown.

All the species of kangaroo rats have highly developed hind legs. They also live in deep burrows that safeguard them from the screeching heat of the day. Water may be complicated in finding such climates. Thus, they only scarcely need to drink water. Rather, they possess a very efficient metabolism. The kidneys of kangaroo rats are much more efficient and functioning than human kidneys. They can also chemically segregate water from the food they eat.

Kangaroo Rats Burrows

When kangaroo rats are domesticated in large numbers, their mounds burrow openings, and trails in sand and vegetation are the most noticeable features of the terrain. Both the number of burrows and individuals per acre (hectare) can differ largely depending on locality and time of year. There are generally many more burrow openings than there actually are rats. Each active burrow, in fact, will have a minimum of one adult rat. There could be as many as 35 rats per acre in farmlands. In range-lands, 10 to 12 rats per acre have more possibilities. They do not have big home ranges; their radius of activity is customarily 200 to 300 feet, barely exceeding 600 feet. They may move a mile to build a new home range.

Kangaroo Rats Life Span

The lifespan of a wild kangaroo rat does not enjoy longevity, and live only up to 2-5 years.

FAQs on Kangaroo Rat

Q1. How Do We Identify Kangaroo Rats?

Answer: Kangaroo rats consist of long tails and larger hind feet having only four toes. Their eyes are quite huge, with ears remarkably small. Kangaroo Rats are small, furry creatures weighing up to 4.5 ounces, which is approximately the weight of a granola bar. Their fur is a little yellowish-brown with a white belly and also specks of white in feet area, while the tail has a remarkable white tip. Kangaroo rats possess powerful hind legs and a long tail that allows them to balance well.

Q2. Where Do Kangaroo Rats Live?

Answer: Kangaroo rats usually live in underground burrows that they have dug out themselves. Sometimes, the burrow is at the base of a bush or shrub. They spend most of their day underground sleeping, and coming out to feed at night when it is cooler.

Kangaroo rats are basically found in areas of Mexico and the US, where there is little grass or vegetation left, but which have a fairly dry climate. Scientists call such regions arid and semi-arid. The animals are predisposed to live on leaves, seeds, nuts and other fruit they can find. They also seize insects. They are also known for stockpiling (storing) some amount of food in their burrows, for the worst times.

General Biology and Reproduction of Kangaroo Rats

Kangaroo rats conduct breeding from February to October in southern desert states. The breeding period is somewhat shorter in the northern states. The gestation period is estimated at 30 days. Reproductive rates differ as per species, food accessibility, and density of rodent populations. Females can have 1 to 3 litters of 1 to 6 young per year. The young kangaroo cats are born blind and hairless in a fur-lined nest within the tunnel system. Generally, the young prefers to remain in the nest and tunnel for about a month before showing up aboveground.

Only some females will breed after an elongated drought when food is in short supply. Most females will bear young when food is ample, and some young females born early in the season will also yield litters ahead of the termination of the season.

Kangaroo Rat Behavior

All kangaroo rats construct tunnels in soft or sandy soil. The tunnel system is quite intricate, and contains various living, sleeping, and food storage chambers. The extensive burrowing led to a fair amount of soil being brought up and piled up on the ground surface. These mounds can sometimes be mistaken for prairie dog mounds, especially when seen on aerial photographs. They may differ in size but can be as huge as 15 feet across and up to 2 feet high.

The rodent is completely nocturnal and often plugs their burrow entrances with soil during the day in order to maintain a more consistent temperature and relative humidity. They can be often spotted on roads at night, jumping in front of headlights in regions where they occur.

Kangaroo rats often crop up in underdeveloped colonies or aggregation, but there seems to be little if any social management among them. Burrows are spaced to enable for adequate food sources within normal travel distances. Spacing of mounds will differ in accordance to abundance of food, but well-organized travel lanes have been noticed between neighboring mounds.

Q3. What are the Threats for Kangaroo Rats?

Answer: Completion of state and federal water projects led to rapid cultivation and irrigation of giant kangaroo rat habitat. Industrial and urban development’s, petroleum and mineral extraction and exploration, construction of communication, transportation infrastructures, new energy and water conveyance facilities continue to destroy and fragment habitat for giant kangaroo rats and elevate the threats to the species by decreasing and further breaking populations. Moreover, use of rodenticide-treated grain to curb ground kangaroo rats and squirrels may have contributed to the contraction of giant kangaroo rats.