Kangaroo rats live in dry and arid regions where food and water are scarce. Most of the kangaroo rats are inhabitants of deserts and dry regions of the western and southwestern regions of North America. As most of them live in a desert, the diet of this animal is rather limited. It does not have much choice in selection of its food. Kangaroo rat, despite its similarity in name, does not belong to the family of the kangaroo. These are small rodents and belong to the genus Dipodomys.
The primary food of kangaroo rat consists of a variety of seeds and grasses. They collect the seeds from different dessert grasses and mesquite beans. They eat seeds from purslane, creosote, bush, ocotillo and grama grasses. They mostly prefer large sized seeds. Some species of kangaroo rats also eat succulents and other types of green vegetation. They are not strictly herbivorous and feed on insects, if required.
Kangaroo rats are well adapted to the desert environment and can survive with very little water. They are unique animals and have the special ability to get water from the dry seeds they eat. They have the ability to conserve water. They do not sweat or pant like any other animal and thus do not loose water from their bodies. They are nocturnal animals. They only come out of their burrows during the nighttime when the heat is less and humidity is highest. Kangaroo rat has a specially adapted kidney, which excretes waste material from the body without removal of much water. Their urine is five times more concentrated than maximum concentrated human urine. Thus they do not need to drink and can survive with the water they get from the chemical breakdown of food.
Kangaroo rats live and store food in burrows. They have powerful legs with which they can dig inverted ‘U’ shaped or complex burrows in the soil. Kangaroo rats collect seeds when available and store them for later consumption. They employ two types of food storage techniques. Some species of kangaroo rats practice larderhoarding, which involves storage of large amount of food in a single location in a burrow. The other practice is called scatterhoarding, which involves caches that are small deposits of food made in pits on the soil surface, near their home. Larderhoarding provides easy access to large amount of food in a single location but the food is more vulnerable to loss, if it becomes available to any competitor. In scatterhoarding, the probability of loss is less, but requires more energy, skill and memory to collect the stored food. Kangaroo rats have external cheek pouches lined with fur. They use these pouches for carrying foods from the source to the storehouse. The fur lined pouches help to preserve moisture in the food during transport. They defend their food caches or burrows aggressively to protect the food from competitors.