Explained: Desert kangaroo rat, whose ninja kick proved too much for rattlesnake

The desert kangaroo rat, or Dipodomys deserti, is one of several species of kangaroo rat native to western North America (Source: http://www.nps.gov)

A series of videos recently gone viral, shot with high-speed cameras and played in slow motion, show a tiny rodent, desert kangaroo rat, using acrobatic jumps and high-flying "ninja kicks" to evade strikes by a sidewinder rattlesnake.

The desert kangaroo rat, or Dipodomys deserti, is one of several species of kangaroo rat native to western North America.

The videos were shot in Arizona and were part of a study, published in Functional Ecology, that tracked interactions between radio-implanted sidewinder rattlesnakes (Crotalus cerastes) and kangaroo rats.

Desert kangaroo rats are barely a foot long and weigh a little more than 100g when full grown but can jump up to 9ft at speeds up to 10ft/s, or 10kph. The acrobatics in its erratic jumps, along with kicks to the rattlesnake’s head and at times the sand it flung into the predator’s face, helped it survive on several occasions.

The videos were shot in Arizona and were part of a study published in Functional Ecology. (Source: Ninja Rat/ Youtube)

However, not every specimen studied made it. Out of 32 strikes by 13 rattlesnakes, 15 resulted in bites. Of the 15 bitten kangaroo rats, 8 survived and 7 were eaten by the rattlesnakes. Of the 17 misses, 6 were inaccurate strikes while the other 11 were accurate strikes but missed due to the kangaroo rat being able to move out of the way.

These 11 strikes break up further into 7 kangaroo rats leaping out of the way, and 4 contorting their bodies in a way that the snake could not make contact.