Friday, June 3, 2011

Rats are hideous...unless you're a Kangaroo

Just stating the obvious. There's nothing remotely pulchritudinous about a freakin' rat. But, for whatever reason (wacky weather? astrological anomalies? bad luck vibes from the train wreck otherwise known as Snooki?), we've had an infestation of rats in our fruit orchard this spring. Gil set out various devices, including one of those Havahart live animal traps, in hopes of catching some of those varmints, who would otherwise be nibbling on our ripening peaches, apricots & apples with reckless abandon. 

So last Friday, when I tethered Hana out in front of the garage for some fresh air, she immediately bolted for the Havahart cage in the adjacent orchard and started attacking it with gusto. Woohoo! I thought. Must be a rat in there...yeah! So after struggling to remove Hana from the scene (Hana's a bantam weight for an Akita, but try sparring with a 70-lb. pooch with a one-track mind), I peered into the cage and saw...hmmm...well, yes, it was a rodent. But why did it look so, ah, kinda cute? Its tail was really long like a rat's, but not devoid of hair. In fact, there was a tuft of fur at the end of the tail (adorable), and it had really sweet, large, round doe-eyes, along with some disproportionately large hind legs. So I exclaimed to myself, "What the...? this ain't no 'rat' rat! This here's a Kangaroo Rat!" Btw, this was not our first encounter with a Kangaroo Rat on the property: we caught a fleeting glimpse of one via our critter cam whilst filming the marathon Bunny Palooza in the orchard last July: 

Kangaroo Rats are native to California and the desert Southwest, and have adapted to their dry habitats by deriving all their water requirements from the various seeds that they consume. Anyhoo, since they eat seeds and not cultivated fruit, I inferred that they were not in cahoots with the other rat rats in decimating our fruit crop. 

Initially, I was both excited and then mildly freaked out that this might be an endangered Stephen's Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys stephensi). The Stephen's is endemic to the San Jacinto Valley (more than 35 miles from here) and has 5 toes on its hind legs, putting our captive critter out of ID contention. My trepidation with the Stephens was that, before we could get the sign-off from Riverside County to build our home back in 2004, we had to pay a hefty (for us anyways) $1,000/acre mitigation fee for this species because our property was in 'potential' (and I stress 'potential') Stephen's Kangaroo Rat habitat. I'm all for protecting endangered species, but I think we would have felt a little less pain forking over that fee if we knew of even ONE Stephens' ever being sighted around here. Moving on, I think the little guy we caught here is a Merriam Kangaroo Rat (Dipodomys merriami). It's smallish, has 4 toes on its hind legs, and is considered the most widespread K-Rat in California. Oh, and yes- they do hop like kangaroos.

On the threshold of the exit hatch.



  1. cute! :D

  2. Hi Arleen, What a cutie, those big eyes and long feet. I'm glad he could get free. Our dog, Maggie, would have gone freaking crazy, too!

    We have one called a pocket mouse...we got a lucky shot of one recently, third photo down in this post.
    Our daughter had rats as pets...not too bad.

  3. I hope you'll find the culprit. I completely agree with you about rats and I'm always a bit baffled to see them as pets...Mind you, it's not kangaroo rats that are the pets.

    great photos!

  4. Maybe I'll pretend that whatever is scratching around in my attic has big brown eyes and a fluffy tail.

  5. Sue, that pocket mouse is pretty darned cute, too. Reminds me of hamsters. I've seen rats in the pet stores before, but their coloration is generally more appealing (including albino) than the drab grays of the stereotypical rat. Something about that tail I can't get over, though.

    Town Mouse, da mouse that don't love a rat, and I'm totally with you!

    altadenahiker, I've never harbored any illusions regarding the cuteness of those things scratching in my attic. In fact, I don't even think they're rats, but rather something along the lines of a local mutation of the chupacabra. Really puts a damper on my beauty sleep.

  6. I'm not a fan of rodents in the garden. Our blasted wood rats occasionally run amok around here, and once decimated an entire strawberry crop...overnight! Made me want to let the Bobcat into the orchard for a while for a little native rodent control (I was outvoted by the chickens). Darn it though, this k-rat is darned adorable. It's those big round eyes, luring you in...and reminds me an awful lot of the pet gerbil I had as a child (they weren't banned in England like they are here). Glad to see the little fella has a second chance to appear in Bunny Palooza the sequel ;)

  7. Claire, I've been reading up on K-rats, and they and the jumping gerbils of the Old World (Asia & Africa) are examples of convergent evolution. That is, they have similar features, habits, and habitats, but are otherwise unrelated. Pretty cool.

  8. He sure looks alot smaller than our UK rats - he looks kinda cute infact.

  9. we have our share of "visitors," and i believe some have hopped like this one. we don't fight them anymore. circle of life and all that. yours is very cute!

  10. He is so cute. I just found one in a gutter in laguna beach and think he's sick. But I don't know if he's a endangered k-rat.