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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

K-Rat Flats

Grassy alluvial benches with an occasional juniper and clumps of wild buckwheat.

Curious collections of grass seed -- a phenomenom of microclimate or a rodent's granary?

Burrows with aprons of fine soil and dust basins where rodents groom and clean their lax pelage.

This is giant kangaroo rat country.

Dipodomys ingens -- whether you accent the first or second syllable you gotta love the poetic name.

They are the largest of k-rats, and make a hearty meal for medium-sized owls like the long ear.

Their furry toes float on sand, and their hindlegs can catapult them as far as 6-feet.

If you ever chase a k-rat as it richochets in moonlight or the headlights of your car, you'll marvel at their nimble footwork and changes in direction.

Giant k-rats were the main food item in the long-eared owl pellets we examined a few hours earlier in the day.

And speaking of food . . . in my gangly youth the late Robert T. Orr, Curator of Birds and Mammals at the California Academy of Sciences related how he and mammalogist E. Raymond Hall once made a fine collection of k-rats in the Nevada desert.

"One afternoon we set 100 snap traps and the next morning 98 of them had rodents."

They decided to cook up those meaty veal-colored k-rats haunches.

Instead of hardwood sawdust they used cornmeal to skin the rats (either product eases the skinning and removes fat), and they saved the plump hindquarters in a coffee can which they stashed under the front seat of the car.

They forgot about it, but only temporarily.

As they were cruising the dirt roads a couple days later there was a dull thud under the car seat and they were overtaken by a powerful stench.

No one dined on k-rat haunches that trip.

Here the giant k-rat shares it habitat with kit foxes, which together with burrowing owls usually eat the rats fresh.

The prospect of photographing a kit fox lifted my spirits, but Craig warned me that it isn't ideal kit fox habitat.

So we set one camera under a juniper in the middle of the grassy plain.


JK said...


Searching high and low for a contact address on the blog and could not find one. Do you have any recent posts on camera equipment or getting started in camera trapping? I would love to give it a try and am seeking recommendations on gear. I spend more time than I would like in lab and don't get out much so this seems like it might be a way of doing two things at once.

Thanks for your time.

dr_fiehlgood said...

Just a quick note. The most abundant k-rat on the property is Heermann's kangaroo rat. The Giants are limited to just a couple areas on the ranch. So though the Long-eared owls won't pass up a giant kangaroo rat, they are probably mostly taking Heermann's. We can measure some skulls and see what their favorite k-rat is.