The Desert kangaroo rats are adorable animals with noticeably large hind legs, helping them escape from predators. The Desert kangaroo rat resembles a tiny kangaroo, and is a size of a mouse. The species is so called due to hopping like a kangaroo. The unusual Desert kangaroo rat is among the animals with least water demand. This animal is able to live in extremely dry conditions, getting all required moisture from dry seeds it consumes. It has pouches on both sides of its mouth, where it stores food. The life expectancy of the Desert kangaroo rats in the wild in unknown, but those in captivity usually live 5.5 - 8 years.
The range of Desert kangaroo rat includes parts of the Sonoran Desert as well as arid areas of southwestern North America - Death Valley, the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert (Mexico and United States). The ideal habitat of this species is sandy-soiled desert with sparse vegetation, represented by grasses, cacti and creosote bush.
Desert kangaroo rats are generally nocturnal, but can occasionally come out of their burrows by day. During the daytime hours, they usually sleep in their burrows, emerging to forage only by night, when the temperature drops. When looking for food, a kangaroo rat roams in a radius of up to 100 m. These animals spend most of their active hours modifying their burrows. They can be observed constantly digging new tunnels, opening new entrances as well as plugging entrances. These animals are solitary, socializing only when mating or rearing their young. Each burrow is used by a single individual. Desert kangaroo rats are highly territorial animals, fiercely driving intruders away from their home range. Spotting an unknown object, they will kick sand at the object to determine if it's alive and to make sure it's not a threat. This kicking habit allows them to escape traps: they usually kick so much sand onto traps that eventually spring or bury them. Desert kangaroo rats enjoy dust-bathing in the sand. They do this in order to maintain their coat clean and get rid of grease.
Desert kangaroo rats are herbivores (folivores). Instead of eating succulent plants, these animals usually use dried plant matter, left from the previous year. Typical types of food include leaves of sage and various seeds such as these of the creosote bush.
Although the mating system of this species is unknown, Desert kangaroo rats are thought to be polygynandrous (promiscuous), which means that individuals of both sexes mate with multiple mates. Mating season lasts from early January to early July. Females produce 1 - 2 litters of 1 - 6 young per year, after a gestation period of 29 - 32 days. A newborn baby of Desert kangaroo rat is about 52 mm in length. Young are born naked and with thin, pink, transparent skin. Hence, the mother kicks sand onto her babies in order to dry them. Young are nursed by their mother in a nest. Weaning occurs at 21 days old, by which time young attain their full furring and coloration. As other related species, Desert kangaroo rats reach sexual maturity at 2 months old.
Although there are no notable threats to the overall population of this species, cars and recreational vehicles on dune areas may pose a serious threat to Desert kangaroo rats, found in the area.
According to IUCN, the Desert kangaroo rat is very common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. However, numbers of this species are stable today, and it is classified as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.
The role of Desert kangaroo rats in the local ecosystem is not fully explored. However, these animals are known to be key prey species for numerous predators. In addition, due to caching seeds, they serve as important seed dispersers of their range.