Life History of the Kangaroo Rat Informative Summary


This bulletin, a joint effort of the Biological Survey and the University of Arizona, provides a detailed analysis of the banner-tailed kangaroo rat, Dipodomys spectabilis spectabilis. The report focuses on the animal’s role in the Southwest’s ecosystem, particularly its impact on the carrying capacity of grazing lands. The authors investigate the kangaroo rat’s habitat, food storage habits, breeding patterns, and interactions with other species. They discuss its economic impact and offer practical advice for control methods.

The study emphasizes the kangaroo rat’s adaptability and resourcefulness. The animal’s ability to survive in arid conditions is remarkable. They store food throughout the year, ensuring their survival during lean periods. Their elaborate burrow systems provide shelter and protection, while their unique storage strategies highlight their resilience in a challenging environment.

Key Findings:

  • Significant impact on grazing land: The kangaroo rat, especially during periods of drought, can drastically reduce the availability of forage for livestock, impacting the carrying capacity of grazing lands.
  • Unique storage strategies: Kangaroo rats are incredibly skilled at storing food, primarily seeds, in their burrows. These stores can be substantial, weighing up to 12.67 pounds. This adaptation allows them to survive during periods of scarcity.
  • Intricate burrow systems: Kangaroo rats create complex burrow systems that extend up to four stories underground, with intricate networks of tunnels, storage chambers, and nest cavities. These provide shelter, protection, and storage for their food reserves.


  • Adaptability and survival in arid environments: The text demonstrates the kangaroo rat’s incredible adaptability to surviving in arid conditions. Their ability to thrive in harsh environments is a testament to their unique storage strategies and elaborate burrow systems.
  • The impact of rodents on ecosystems: The bulletin highlights the significant ecological role of rodents, emphasizing their impact on food availability and the carrying capacity of grazing lands. Understanding this impact is crucial for managing ecosystems and ensuring sustainability.
  • The importance of ecological balance: The authors caution against indiscriminate control measures, emphasizing the need for a balanced approach to managing populations of both predators and prey. Understanding the intricate relationships within ecosystems is vital for responsible environmental management.

Historical Context:

The bulletin was published in 1922, a time when the American Southwest was undergoing rapid development. The expanding agricultural industry and increased livestock grazing placed significant pressure on the region’s natural resources. This context underscores the importance of understanding the role of native species, such as the kangaroo rat, in shaping the landscape and influencing resource availability.


  • Kangaroo rats are the only mammals in the Southwest with external cheek pouches: This adaptation allows them to efficiently gather and transport seeds.
  • The banner-tailed kangaroo rat is the largest and one of the most handsome of its family: It is easily recognizable by its white tail-brush.
  • The kangaroo rat’s breeding season extends from January to August: Females can produce 1 to 3 young per litter.
  • Kangaroo rats store seeds for survival: They rely on these stores, primarily composed of seeds from grasses like Bouteloua rothrockii (crowfoot grama), during seasons of scarcity.
  • The kangaroo rat’s dens are remarkably intricate: They can reach up to four stories underground, with multiple storage chambers and a nest cavity.
  • The kangaroo rat is not generally a significant economic issue except in times of drought: During drought conditions, their food stores can significantly reduce the available forage for livestock.
  • Kangaroo rats are easily controlled through poisoning: The same formula used for prairie dog control can be effectively applied.
  • Kangaroo rats are an interesting and unique part of the Southwestern desert ecosystem: They are important members of the food chain and contribute to the ecosystem’s diversity.


  • Estimated 2 kangaroo rats per acre on the Range Reserve: This translates to 1,280 animals per square mile.
  • A single kangaroo rat can store up to 4 pounds of grass seeds and crowns: Across the 50 square miles of the Range Reserve, this translates to 128 tons of forage rendered unavailable to livestock.
  • The stored material can be sufficient to feed 14 steers for a year: This highlights the potential impact of kangaroo rats on grazing capacity, especially during drought years.
  • 69 females studied for breeding patterns: 21.7% produced only one offspring, 75.3% produced two, and 2.9% produced three.
  • The largest amount of storage of any one species of grass in any one den: Bouteloua rothrockii (crowfoot grama) accounted for 2,205 grams (approximately a bushel) in one den.


  • Commensals: Animals that live together, but do not benefit or harm each other.
  • Fleshy fungi: Non-vascular fungi that have a fleshy fruiting body, such as mushrooms or puffballs.
  • Subsidary burrow: A smaller, outlying burrow connected to the main den by a runway.
  • Transition Zone: An ecological zone characterized by a mix of plant communities from different zones, often found at the interface between two major biomes.
  • Upper Sonoran Zone: An ecological zone characterized by grasslands, scrublands, and woodlands, typically found at higher elevations than the Lower Sonoran Zone.
  • Lower Sonoran Zone: An ecological zone characterized by deserts, with sparse vegetation and harsh conditions.
  • Turbinals: Scroll-shaped bones found in the nasal cavity, which help humidify and warm the air.
  • Vibrissæ: Long, stiff hairs, primarily used for tactile sensing.
  • Metabolic water: Water produced by the body as a byproduct of metabolism.


  • Storage of Sporobolus cryptandrus strictus (dropseed grass): One den in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contained 5,455 grams (over 12 pounds) of this grass, demonstrating the kangaroo rat’s remarkable ability to store large quantities of food.
  • The fight between a banner-tailed kangaroo rat and a smaller species: Observations of a smaller kangaroo rat entering a banner-tailed kangaroo rat’s den and fleeing as if pursued indicate the larger rat’s territorial behavior and defense of its food stores.
  • The discovery of young kangaroo rats in a nest chamber: The excavation of a den revealed two young kangaroo rats, providing insights into their breeding habits and the development of their offspring.
  • The use of Eschscholtzia mexicana (Mexican poppy) as food: During the spring of 1919, kangaroo rats consumed a large amount of poppy buds and flowers, highlighting their adaptability to utilizing readily available food sources.
  • The use of dens as shelter for other species: The bulletin notes several instances of other animals, including rabbits, squirrels, and snakes, using kangaroo rat dens as temporary refuge.
  • The use of poisoned grain for kangaroo rat control: The authors highlight the effectiveness of using the same poisoned grain formula used for prairie dog control in eliminating kangaroo rat populations.


The bulletin provides a comprehensive understanding of the banner-tailed kangaroo rat’s life history, emphasizing its adaptability to arid environments and its significant impact on grazing lands. The study highlights the importance of ecological balance and urges for responsible management of both predators and prey populations. Understanding the complex relationships within ecosystems is crucial for maintaining biodiversity and sustaining resource availability. While the kangaroo rat can be a nuisance, it is also an important part of the Southwestern desert ecosystem, and its role should be recognized and respected, especially in areas where agriculture and grazing are not extensive.

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