Kangaroo rats are distinctive, up to 11 inches long but weighing only about two and a half ounces. Their elegant tail is longer than their head and body. The fur of the back is yellowish to reddish buff, and the belly is a fastidious white. The hind feet are huge, the forepaws dainty. Seeds and nesting materials are carried in external, fur-lined cheek-pouches. Expect to see them at night along country roads through sandy rangelands, making two-footed jumps six feet long and one and a half feet high, and changing direction in mid-air, using their tufted tail as a rudder.
Range: Ord’s kangaroo rat lives at lower elevations throughout Colorado – the eastern plains, the San Luis Valley and the major valleys of the Western Slope.
Habitat: The animals make conspicuous burrows in dunes or blowouts, along borrow-pits, beneath shrubs, yucca or prickly pear. Burrows are plugged as a defense against predators (although coyotes, badgers, snakes and owls kill them in large numbers) and as protection against water loss. This species adapted to the periodic disturbances of the prairie by bison. Thus they are helped by moderate livestock overgrazing.
Diet: Their diet of seeds is supplemented by up to 20 percent insects. Water is unnecessary; they can get all they need as a by-product of digestion of fat in their diet. They are active all year long, living on stored seeds during bad weather.
Reproduction: They breed throughout the warmer months, although there may be a lull in midsummer. Litters of two to five young are born after a gestation period of about 30 days. Newborn are blind and naked, cheek-pouches are absent, and the tail is short. However, they are full-grown within six weeks.
By David M. Armstrong
Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
Environmental Studies Program, University Museum of Natural History
University of Colorado-Bouldermausmann@aol.com