Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 243–250 | Cite as

Inter-specific variation in anti-predator behavior in sympatric species of kangaroo rat

  • Jan A. Randall
  • Susan M. Hatch
  • Evon R. Hekkala


Kangaroo rats, Dipodomys, occupy desert habitats with little cover and thus are under high predation risk from diverse predators. The behavior used to assess predation risk or to escape capture is unknown. We therefore compared anti-predator behavior of two sympatric species of kangaroo rat of different sizes, D. merriami and D. spectabilis. We first examined whether kangaroo rats use olfaction as a first line of defense against snake predation and tested the rats for their responses to scent extracted from two species of snake that live sympatrically with the kangaroo rats, the Mojave rattlesnake (Crotalus scutulatus) and the gopher snake (Pitophis melanoleucus). We also tested for species differences in anti-predator behavior through 15-min interactions between the kangaroo rats and free-moving gopher snakes. We found that D. spectabilis actively approached the scent of both rattlesnakes and gopher snakes more than controls of vegetable oil and evaporated solvent (Fig. 1). In contrast, D. merriami did not differentiate snake odors from controls in the experimental arena, but they sniffed the sand where a free-moving snake had passed more than D. spectabilis. Both species successfully avoided predation in encounters with live snakes. Although total numbers of approaches and withdrawals were similar (Fig. 2), D. spectabilis spent significantly more time within striking distance of the snake than D. merriami. D. spectabilis approached the head of the snake in 93% of its approaches and often engaged in nose to snout contact with the snake. If the snake struck, D. spectabilis jumped directly backward to avoid a strike and footdrummed at a safe distance. In contrast, D. merriami oriented to the snake more than D. spectabilis, but approached the head in only 41% of the approaches and rarely engaged in nose-to-snout contact. The snakes struck, hissed and decreased predatory approaches with D. spectabilis but not with D. merriami (Fig. 3). These results show that kangaroo rats can behaviorally influence the risk of being preyed on by snakes. The two species differ, however, in how they react to snakes. The larger D. spectabilis confronts snakes while the smaller D. merriami monitors snakes from a safe distance and avoids them.

Key words

Snake Anti-predator Dipodomys 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jan A. Randall
    • 1
  • Susan M. Hatch
    • 1
  • Evon R. Hekkala
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologySan Francisco State UniversitySan FranciscoUSA

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