Desert kangaroo rat (Dipodomys deserti)

The desert kangaroo rat, Dipodomys deserti, is a rodent species in the family Heteromyidae that is found in desert areas of southwestern North America.[2] It is one of the large kangaroo rats, with a total length greater than 12 inches (30 cm) and a mass greater than 3.2oz (91g).


The desert kangaroo rat is found in arid parts of southwestern North America, including Death Valley, the Great Basin, the Mojave Desert, and portions of the Sonoran Desert. Also, found in parts of the Saudi Arabian Deserts.


Desert kangaroo rats are denizens of desert areas with sandy soil; vegetation is typically sparse and consists of creosote bush, a variety of grasses, and cacti. Desert kangaroo rats live in burrow systems under slight mounds of soil 6-9m across; they sleep in a den, which is sealed off at extreme temperatures, during the day. Groups of 6-12 widely spaced burrows may constitute a colony of this species, which is otherwise solitary.


Foraging ecology

Seeds are the dominant component of the diet of desert kangaroo rats. The size of the seeds consumed by the species tends to be larger than seeds consumed by other, sympatric heteromyids. When presented with patches with variation in seed sizes and densities—which in combination vary total profitability—desert kangaroo rats tend to choose large-seed patches but reduce parofitability of a set of patches to similar levels. Seed selection also appears correlated with nutritional content, with this species choosing seeds with high carbohydrate content. Although some kangaroo rats will consume green vegetation, desert kangaroo rats do not. Feeding occurs in fits and starts of movement and at relatively discrete locations, with an average distance of ~7 m (22 ft.) between stops.

Water ecology

Most kangaroo rat species live in arid environments and are known for their ability to make use of metabolic water rather than requiring it from the environment. Desert kangaroo rats are no exception, in that while they will drink available water, the vast majority of their water requirements are met from byproducts of metabolic processes. Adaptation to very low quantities of water (free or metabolic) is highlighted by the very long water turnover times for the species, on the order of 2–3 weeks.



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About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.