Due to the kind of habitat they live in, the diet of kangaroo rats is fairly limited but very specialised to their dietary needs and nutrition. Kangaroo rats are mouse-sized rodents native to the southwest United States and Mexico. They live in hot, arid, scrubland and desert areas and are generally nocturnal. There are 22 species of kangaroo rat currently recognised and they are given their common name due to their well developed hind legs with which they hop like a Kangaroo (to which they are not related), and their tails which they use for balance, they are however, not technically rats either.
The primary food source for all species of kangaroo rat is seeds -mainly from grasses such as ocotillo and grama grass for which they forage at night to escape the heat of the day and some predators like snakes, but some species also eat leaves, stems, buds, succulents, fruit if available, and even insects – depending on what is available in the area they inhabit. These small, energetic creatures need a diet that provides energy (calories) and carbohydrate.
Like most desert dwelling animals, the kangaroo rat derives the majority of its water from the food that it eats so can go for long periods without drinking. Because of its nocturnal behaviour and by living in cool underground areas during the day they do not lose much water unless forced to have a diet low in carbohydrates. They also have a very efficient metabolism when it comes to water retention and can recycle most of the water in their bodies.
Kangaroo rats live in burrows underground which they dig out of the soft, dry sand, usually at the base of bushes. They are very territorial with only one adult per burrow. Some species excavate specially made storage chambers in their burrows (larder hoarding) whilst others make shallow pits within their territory (scatter hoarding). When foraging for food, they utilise their external cheek pouches – much like hamsters do – which are fur-lined, to carry food back to their burrow or store where they hoard or ‘cache’ it for later consumption. The fur lining stops the kangaroo rats food from losing water in transit. Some species store the equivalent of just a couple of cheek-pouches worth whilst others such as the Banner-tailed Kangaroo Rat have been known to store far larger amounts weighing kilograms! This way they always have food available and are prepared in case of a poor growing season or bad weather conditions.
Even in the face of a limited range of food sources and hostile living conditions, kangaroo rats are resilient and inventive in order to survive, they use their food to efficiently fuel their systems and waste very little. They are the perfect example of an animal which uses its habitat for the best it can offer.