Newly released footage of desert kangaroo rats show the cute creatures are able to foil snake attacks through a series of impressive moves.
The findings appear in two newly published papers that analyze the behaviors and biomechanics of kangaroo rats and rattlesnakes.
The research, which was done by a student-led team from UC Riverside, San Diego State University, and UC Davis, filmed encounters between the animals using high-speed cameras.
In the process, the researchers learned that a rattlesnake can attack a rat in only 100 milliseconds, much less than the 150 milliseconds it takes for a human eye to blink.
Despite this speed, researchers said that only half of the 32 snake-on-rat ambushes they recorded ended with snakebites, according to LiveScience.
The kangaroo rat had a reaction time of 70 milliseconds, giving it a fighting chance to get away.
“Kangaroo rats that responded quickly were frequently able to jump clear of the snake completely, leaving the serpent biting nothing but dust as the kangaroo rat rocketed 7-8 body lengths into the air,” Rulon Clark, an associate professor of biology at San Diego State University and a co-author on both research papers, said in a release. “But in perhaps the most surprising finding of our research, kangaroo rats that did not react quickly enough to avoid the strike had another trick up their sleeves: they often were able to avoid being envenomated by reorienting themselves in mid-air and using their massive haunches and feet to kick the snakes away, ninja-style.”
Besides the hair-trigger reflexes and superior athleticism, kangaroo rats also have sensitive hearing that allow them to pick up low-frequency sounds that suggest a potential ambush, according to NBC Los Angeles.
The findings appear in two new papers in Functional Ecology and the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society that present detailed analyses of the behaviors and biomechanics of both kangaroo rats and rattlesnakes.
The researchers have also posted some of the more compelling videos on a new website, NinjaRat.org.
Grace Freymiller of San Diego State University, who was the student lead author of one of the papers, hopes the research and videos give people a better idea of life in the desert.
“We just want people to see that they’re not necessarily lifeless barren habitats,” she told The Washington Post. “They’re worth protecting, they’re worth appreciating. They’re home to these amazing animals doing things beyond what we could ever imagine.”