Despite their name, desert kangaroo rats are not related to kangaroos. The name is given with respect to the bipedal form exhibited by these medium-sized rodents. To be precise, they hop like kangaroos, hence the name. They are not to be confused with the desert rat-kangaroos, which is an extinct species and resembles a small rabbit in size.
According to the zoological taxonomy, desert rat kangaroos (Dipodomys deserti, or Dipodomys deserti arizonae at times), are small mammals belonging to the Heteromyidae family of the order Rodentia. While studying their evolution, the researchers found out that this species is not related to kangaroo mice (genus Microdipodops).
The most prominent feature of desert kangaroo rats is their external fur-lined cheek pouch, which is used for temporary storage of food. As for the appearance, their body is round and plump, with brownish fur and whitish underbelly. Their ears are round and hairless, and the tail is longer than the overall body length (about 10 - 14-inch long).
Native to North America, desert kangaroo rats are widely found in sandy and rocky habitats of central America as well. They are prevalent mammalian species of the dry lands of North America, including the Sonoran deserts. Like other rodents, they live in burrows, where they remain protected from the extremely hot temperatures.
These rats can live without water for an extended periods. At times, they even complete their lifespan without drinking a drop of water. Consequently, their capacity to concentrate urine is four times that of humans. This way, they derive more water from their diet. In fact, these adaptations help them survive in the harsh environmental conditions of the desert.
They hunt for food at night, when the atmospheric air is humid and cold. The food of desert kangaroo rat mainly comprises dry seeds, insects, green vegetation, etc. Excess food is stored in the underground burrows.
These rats communicate by means of high-pitch noises. Their breeding period is from February to October. A healthy female lays up to 3 litters annually. After gestating for 30 days, the female gives birth to a litter of about 4 young ones. They are born hairless and blind. In the wild, they survive for about 3 - 5 years.
In general, all the species of wild rats are considered pests, since they infest garden plants and destroy stored food grains. Thus, keeping desert kangaroo rats as pets is not commonly practiced.