Airborne in the USA: a rodent's ninja-kicks rattle snake


Slo-mo film reveals extraordinary survival acrobatics. Nick Carne reports.


Not an easy target: a kangaroo rat reacts rapidly to a rattle snake attack.

Ninjarat.org

Don’t mess with a kangaroo rat – at least if you’re a snake.

As this snippet of video shows, these seemingly defenceless, seed-eating rodents from the genus Dipodomys can evade even as cunning an ambush predator as a rattlesnake, using a combination of fast reaction times, powerful evasive leaps, and mid-air kicks.

The full-length version, shot by a student-led team from the University of California’s Riverside and Davis campuses as well as San Diego State University, all in the US, shows that K-Rat’s moves would put martial arts legend Jackie Chan to shame.

Native to western North America, kangaroo rats are so named because of their bipedal form; they hop in a manner similar to the much larger kangaroo, which is native to Australia

And that is very much to their advantage.

“Kangaroo rats that responded quickly were frequently able to jump clear of the snake completely, leaving the serpent biting nothing but dust as the kangaroo rat rocketed seven to eight body lengths into the air,” says San Diego’s Rulon Clark.

“But in perhaps the most surprising finding of our research, kangaroo rats that did not react quickly enough to avoid the strike had another trick up their sleeves: they often were able to avoid being envenomated by reorienting themselves in mid-air and using their massive haunches and feet to kick the snakes away, ninja-style.”

The researchers believe their work is the first to describe the kinematics of evasive leaps by bipedal rodents avoiding actual attacks from predators.

Their findings, which include analyses of the behaviours and biomechanics of both kangaroo rats and rattlesnakes, are reported in two papers: one published in Functional Ecology and the other in the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.

  1. https://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/oz/long-fact-sheets/krat.php
  2. https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1365-2435.13318
  3. https://academic.oup.com/biolinnean/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/biolinnean/blz027/5419941?redirectedFrom=fulltext
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