the split-second sliver of time in which rattlesnakes attempt to consume
August 26, 2019 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Ninja Rat! Kangaroo rats, found in the southwestern deserts of the United States, perform acrobatic (Youtube) kicks, twists (Youtube) and spins in midair (Youtube) to avoid striking rattlesnakes. The small -- 3.5 to 5.5 inches (8 -14 cm) -- rodents are highly adapted to the desert, living on moisture found in seeds, not by drinking water. Nija Rat is a group of student researchers ( studying terrestrial vertebrates, including kangaroo rats and the "exciting universe of adaptation hidden in the split-second sliver of time in which rattlesnakes attempt to consume kangaroo rats by launching at them from hiding and injecting venom." (CW: no rats killed or eaten by snakes in videos) posted by not_the_water (13 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Ideally, there would also be people studying rattlesnakes so we can get both sides of the arms race.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:41 AM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

While it's not southwest rattlers, Herpetologist William Brown has spent decades studying a population of timber rattlers in upstate New York (previously), and in doing so, has identified two snakes that may about 40 to 50 years old. He also helps that community better understand and appreciate their legless neighbors, shifting from a "kill on sight" policy to "call up Bill and get him to escort the snake(s) offsite."
posted by filthy light thief at 9:58 AM on August 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

Getting out the way that quickly violates what I thought I knew about nerve impulse processing time.

Also the two videos labeled 'twist' and 'spin' in the OP: The snakes are so close! His other snake buddies are probably ribbing him. "How can you even miss from that distance?"

OK, they talk about reaction times a bit. A human eyeblink is maybe 200 milliseconds. A rattler strike, from coiled and motionless to fangs in your leg, is 100 milliseconds. So the coolness of Mel Gibson being "faster than a rattler" in Road Warrior (1981 version) when he grabs the snake mid-strike is biologically impossible (or if you prefer possible but with dumb luck.) But the kangaroo rats can start moving 40 milliseconds after the snake moves. Obviously the really small body size helps since the nerve signals don't need to travel far but that's still incredible.

I wonder if they do false starts, like jump away from fake snakes? There's not a lot of time for their kangaroo brains to process the visual image.
posted by mark k at 10:00 AM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

“I too once had a family, Danny. Many years ago I lived in Japan: a pet of my master Yoshi, mimicking his movements from my cage and learning the mysterious art of Ninjitsu, for Yoshi was one of Japan's finest shadow warriors....”
posted by Fizz at 10:06 AM on August 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Those poor noodles got kicked!
Thank you, this post is awesome.
posted by agentofselection at 10:07 AM on August 26, 2019

Also, I love when we are able to identify examples of true communication between prey and predator, as in the footdrumming video (true communication here meaning that both parties benefit from an exchange of information--if only one party benefits, it is eavesdropping or deception). It is super cool when prey can say "I know you are there, please leave" and predators just go "awww, busted, I'll get you next time."
posted by agentofselection at 10:14 AM on August 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

Sheesh. Of course, in 2019, the very first comment will find a way to "both sides" the issue.

posted by The World Famous at 10:37 AM on August 26, 2019

I wonder if they do false starts, like jump away from fake snakes? There's not a lot of time for their kangaroo brains to process the visual image.

You know that whole genre of videos where people plant cucumbers next to their cats and freak them out? Maybe they could do that with kangaroo rats. Though to be fair, the rats seem completely uninterested in rattlesnakes just lying around. It's weird that there's no avoid-the-rattle-snake-in-the-first-place evolutionary adaptation.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:19 AM on August 26, 2019

One of these cute lil bastards kept me up all night while camping last week. She decided to skitter back and forth across the roof of my tent in an endless loop. I'd scare her off for a few minutes then she'd zoom back.
posted by Eddie Mars at 12:18 PM on August 26, 2019 [1 favorite]

How have I never seen video of a sidewinder move before? It all makes sense now!
posted by hototogisu at 4:27 PM on August 26, 2019

Snek: RATS! Missed again!
posted by droplet at 5:32 PM on August 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Kangaroo Rat Skeleton #1, #2 [card means “Jerboa”]
X-ray Movie of Kangaroo Rat Hopping
• Research article: Jumping mechanics of desert kangaroo rats:
...kangaroo rats and jerboas are capable of jumping over 10-times their standing hip height.
...Kangaroo rats are also capable of very rapid jump take-off times in response to snake strikes.
...Previous studies of in vivo muscle performance by kangaroo rats (Dipodomys spectabilis) suggest that the ankle plantarflexor MTUs generate extremely high forces (up to 175% of the maximal isometric force) during their highest jumps.
...During the highest jumps, the ankle produced over 4-times more work than the knee or hip.
Can’t catch me!!!
posted by cenoxo at 11:09 PM on August 26, 2019

"How do you call among you the little mouse, the mouse that jumps?” Paul asked, remembering the pop-hop of motion at Tuono Basin. He illustrated with one hand. A chuckle sounded through the troop. “We call that one muad’dib,” Stilgar said.
posted by Strutter Cane - United Planets Stilt Patrol at 1:18 AM on August 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

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