Meet Kangaroo Rat from Western Kansas

(Frank) And again, here we are. (Deb) Do I not bring you the coolest stories, Frank? I mean– (Frank) Yes you do. But this next one though, is really—I mean, it really is. Do they box? (Deb) You’ll find out in the story. We’re talking about kangaroo rats. Pretty much Kansas you can divide it in half. They’re not in the east, but they’re the western half is almost a straight line up and down. They’re the wildest little creatures you’ve ever seen in your life and so as I’m researching this and I find out, you’ll learn in the story, they have their burrows, have specialized rooms. So there’s one for sleeping, one for storing food, and there’s a living room. What do these rats do in their living room? Do they have the other rats over? Do they have boxing matches? Do they– (Frank) That’s what I’m wondering. They’re kangaroo rats, so– (Deb) Is it like this open floor plan where it’s living and dining and eating all in one room, and so they just bring everybody in and have a little feast and kick back and watch TV? I mean, why does a rat need a living room? That is the funniest thing. (Frank) Now, how do they know it’s a living room? (Deb) Well, I guess some scientist somewhere has observed them. I just took that at face value, but maybe we need to look into that a little more. (Frank) A little couch and little lights. (Deb) Really. Exactly. I know. And they’ve got the, who knows what they’re playing, Barry White playing on the stereo or something, I don’t know. I mean, it’s like… (Frank) Do we have your interest up now about the story about kangaroo rats in Kansas? (Deb) They are the coolest little creatures, I’m serious. They do, they look like little bitty kangaroos. They just hop along and run over you and… (Frank) So why don’t they call them ‘hop-along rats’, and ‘hop-along Cassidy’ and– never mind. (Deb) I will speak to them about that, Frank. (Frank) Okay. (Deb) Hop along- hop-along rats. They just need the miniature horses, you know? If they just had the little miniature horses, and you have the whole little world. Like the Hobbit world. (Frank) There we go. (Deb) Like the kangaroo rats and the hobbits. (Frank) Can we go away now can we see the story? [laughs]. They are called kangaroo rats, well, because they look like little kangaroos hopping across the road in your headlights. Yes, they hop. They can, in fact, hop a distance of six feet, 9 feet on a good day. This remarkable rodent can even change direction mid-hop. They are bi-pedal, meaning they use two feet instead of all four. They are four-toed little beasts with big hind legs, small front legs and relatively large heads. The tails of kangaroo rats are longer than both their bodies and their heads. Another notable feature of kangaroo rats are their fur-lined cheek pouches, which are used for storing food. Their coloration varies from cinnamon buff to dark gray, depending on the species. The Ord Kangaroo Rat, found in the western half of Kansas, is cinnamon buff. They are rarely seen during the day, burrowing in sandy soil til nightfall when they appear to be food for nearly every other creature on the plains. Coyotes, foxes, badgers, weasels, owls, and every slithering snake imaginable feast on the little fellers. Since they primarily feed on seeds, they gather as many as they can and stuff them into their little pouches. Thus, they spend their time outside the burrow gathering and hoarding, and wait until they get back to the nest to begin digesting their haul. They do not need much water, instead, breaking down seeds with their metabolism, making them ideal survivors in the arid landscapes of the high plains. They can also conserve water by lowering their metabolic rate, which reduces loss of water through their skin and respiratory system. Another fascinating feature of these little guys is their complex burrow system. The burrows have separate chambers for specific purposes like sleeping, living and food storage. The spacing of the burrows depends on the number of kangaroo rats and the abundance of food. Kangaroo rats also live in colonies that range from six to several hundred dens. The burrow of a kangaroo rat is important in providing protection from the harsh desert environment. To maintain a constant temperature and relative humidity in their burrows, kangaroo rats plug the entrances with soil during the day. When the outside temperature is too hot, a kangaroo rat stays in its cool, humid burrow and leaves it only at night. To reduce loss of moisture through respiration when sleeping, a kangaroo rat buries its nose in its fur to accumulate a small pocket of moist air. The next time you see the buff-colored little rodent crossing the road, you might take a moment to marvel at what an interesting little creature he is!

(Deb) You think they’re enlightened enough now? [laughs] (Frank) I think we’re finally done. So, I’m Frank. (Deb) I’m Deb. Happy Fourth of July. (Frank) Oh, yes, yes. And we’ll see you somewhere- (Both) Around Kansas.

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