Karate kangaroo rat

There is a tiny karate-kicking rat that roams eastern Montana and much of the dry areas in the West.

The kangaroo rat measures only about 10 inches long. Half of that length is its tail.

The mouse-like creature gets its name from its large hind feet with four toes. The big feet look like a kangaroo’s. Like kangaroos, the rats use their large feet to bounce around as well as to avoid predators.

Being small, kangaroo rats are on the menu for a lot of other animals like snakes and owls. Snakes are sneaky predators. They will wait very quietly and be still until a kangaroo rat comes close. A rattlesnake can strike very quickly, in about 100 milliseconds. For comparison it takes about 150 milliseconds to blink your eye.

Kangaroo rats are even faster. They can jump in 30 to 78 milliseconds flying about six to eight times their body length away. It’s their way of avoiding being dinner for a snake.

Slow motion cameras that researchers placed on the prairie also showed another amazing ability of kangaroo rats. They filmed one that jumped into the air when a snake went to bite it. Although it looked like the snake bit the rat, while in the air the rat turned and kicked the snake’s head away, sending it flying and landing upside down. It was a heck of a karate kick.

You can watch the video titled "Kangaroo rat defensive kicking of rattlesnake while jumping" on YouTube.

Kangaroo rats are like kangaroos in another way. They have pouches. Kangaroos have one pouch on their stomach, the rats have a pouch in each cheek. That’s where they store seeds that they collect while roaming around the prairie. When they get back to their underground burrow they empty the pouches to eat the seeds.

— Brett French, french@billingsgazette.com

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Montana Untamed Editor

Montana Untamed editor for the Billings Gazette.