Thursday, October 13, 2011

Desert Kangaroo Rat Confronts Sidewinder!

Desert kangaroo rats are known to approach snakes to within striking distance and footdrum (making seismic vibrations by rapidly hitting their hind feet on the ground). They also kick sand at snakes, presumably to disturb the snake forcing it to move to a new area. While conducting research in the Mojave Desert this summer, we filmed footage of a kangaroo rat confronting a sidewinder rattlesnake. The rat investigates the burrow where the sidewinder is hiding, and kicks sand into the burrow. It also moves a distance away and footdrums repeatedly. After the kangaroo rat abandons the area, the sidewinder exits the burrow and moves to the ambush site it utilized the night before. The kangaroo rat's antipredator behavior seems to not have an immediate effect on the snake's behavior. However, like rattlesnakes that are confronted by California ground squirrels, these sidewinders may abandon their ambush sites sooner after receiving antipredator displays than if they had not received them.

This recording may be the first public footage of a kangaroo rat confronting a sidewinder. As a PhD student in the Clark lab at SDSU, I am investigating the nature and function of these interactions. Unlike California ground squirrels, kangaroo rats are not known to be resistant to rattlesnake venom. Thus, close confrontations with sidewinder rattlesnakes could be extremely risky. These behaviors should, on average, elicit responses from the snake that benefit the rat. We think that kangaroo rat displays either remove the snake from the area and/or help the rat safely approach the snake to gain information on the predator risk level. Enjoy this video of a rarely seen behavior.

VIDEO DISCLOSURE: audio does not start working until about 1 minute in, but it is well worth the wait because then you can hear the footdrumming!