In the dark desert outside of Yuma, Arizona, a showdown is imminent. A kangaroo rat leafs through the sand looking for a midnight snack with creosote seeds. At a distance of five centimeters, a poisonous sideman is hungry, waiting for his handsome boy to take just one more step.
The duel is over faster than you can blink. The snake is striking; The rat jumps in the air, kicks the snake in its head and hopes desperately. Neither fighter gets the food they were hoping for.
Such encounters with indecision occur every night in the desert and will largely go unnoticed by all but the living beings involved. Recently, however, a research team decided to get an insight into the action by recording snake attacks on rats using high-speed cameras. The resulting material showed that rattlesnakes (genus Crotalus ) and kangaroo rats (genus Dipodomys ) surprisingly fit together as predator and prey. In a slow slow motion, kangaroo rats also turned out to be furry little ninjas capable of hitting acrobats who would shame Bruce Lee. [Photos: The Poisonous Creatures of the North American Deserts]
"Both rattlesnakes and kangaroo rats are extreme athletes whose maximum performance occurs during these interactions," Timothy Higham, a professor at the University of California, Riverside, and author of two new studies on the rat. Snake showdowns, said in a statement. "This makes the [high-speed camera] system outstanding, in order to make the most of the factors that could outweigh this arms race."
A New Study Published on March 27 The Linnean Society's Journal of Functional Ecology and the Biological Journal, Higham and his colleagues tagged a handful of page turnery Radio stations followed the snakes as they hunted kangaroo ruts through the Yuma desert. Over the next few months, the team recorded 32 ambushes on the line. Only about half of these strikes ended with snake bites. In analyzing the resulting long-term exposures, the researchers found out why.
While the sidebenders were incredibly fast and able to jump out of absolute silence to reach their prey in less than 100 milliseconds (less than the blinking time). the rats were even faster. The team found that the kangaroo rats responded to incoming snake attacks in as little as 38 milliseconds and sometimes jumped flat out of the snake in 70 milliseconds.
In addition, during these 70 milliseconds, some kangaroo rats were capable of subtracting complex maneuvers in the air that stirred the serpents. A rat kicked a snake right under its head and let the predator fly a few feet. Another rat quickly changed her direction in the air and craned her long tail like a propeller to turn away from the attacking snake. Other kangaroo rats jumped seven to eight times their height and plunged far out of danger.
"These lightning-fast and powerful maneuvers … tell us about the effective strategies to escape high-power predators," Higham said. It's likely, he added, that the kangaroo rat's sharp defenses – which include exceptional hearing and explosively powerful hind legs – have emerged in response to the lightning-fast speed of predators such as side-winds and owls.
You can see more of Higham's footage on Youtube. Hopefully, kangaroo rats will end up in animal kung fu movies that they clearly deserve.
Originally published on Live Science .