If you’ve spent time at Red Rock Canyon in the dark, you may have noticed Merriam’s kangaroo rats (Dipodomys merriami) hopping across the road or trail! These small nocturnal mammals, with bodies less than four inches long but tails over six inches long, forage for seeds from creosote shrubs, mesquite, and different grasses. Merriam’s kangaroo rats also have pouches on the sides of their cheeks that allow them to stuff their mouths to the brim! In fact, these animals get all of their water from seeds and do not need to drink it to stay hydrated. Kangaroo rats are excellent burrow excavators and create complex tunnel systems with multiple chambers or rooms for storing food, sleeping, nesting, rearing young, and more. Look for the entry holes into these burrows underneath shrubs across the desert.

So what’s with the name? These tiny mammals are superb leapers, able to jump 10 feet horizontally to escape predators – just like kangaroos! This particular species of kangaroo rat was named in honor of Clinton Hart Merriam, a world-renowned American naturalist who studied & cataloged North American wildlife during the late 1800s & early 1900s.

Note: The featured photo was taken by a Bureau of Land Management wildlife biologist during a seed dispersal survey. For your protection and for the safety of wildlife, please do not handle or touch these or any other animal species.

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