Watch: Kangaroo rats use high speed kick flips to elude vipers

Timothy Higham, an associate professor at UC Riverside, watches a slow motion video of a rat escaping a sidewinder. ©Pittalwala, UC Riverside

Crafty kangaroo rats really put the kick into their jump when attacked by venomous vipers. According to new research conducted with the help of high speed video cameras, the desert kangaroo rat (Dipodomys deserti) has some extreme escape moves when attacked by the lightning-quick strike of sidewinder rattlesnakes (Crotalus cerastes) in the Mojave Desert. The research, published in two studies in Functional Ecology and Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, shows that the snakes struck in less than 100 milliseconds — literally less than the average blink of an eye, which takes 150 milliseconds. But the rats are even faster, reacting around 70 milliseconds after a snake attack, on average. (Some individual record-holders started their jump in as little as 38 milliseconds after snakes began their attack.) Earlier work by the researchers seemed to suggest what the rats were doing, but the recent study used higher-speed cameras to confirm the rats’ skill in the face of a viper attack. “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,” said Rulon Clark, an associate professor of biology at San Diego State University and a co-author on both studies, in a press release. “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.”

Watch videos of the rats’ maneuvers below.