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  1. ITV Report

'Ninja rats' caught on camera fighting off snakes with high-flying kicks

A desert-based rodent has earned itself the name 'ninja rat' after US scientists filmed them leaping into the air to avoid rattlesnakes, with twists and powerful kicks to fight off the predator.

The kangaroo rats' incredible maneouvres were caught on camera - reportedly for the first time - by a group of scientists in the Sanoran Desert in Yuma, Arizona.

They embedded trackers in the rattlesnakes and then followed them at night, using high-speed cameras to capture them as they lay in wait for passing kangaroo rats.

The footage has been slowed down for release as the interactions can quite literally happen in the blink of an eye.

The average human blink takes 150 milliseconds - whereas a rattlesnake launch can happen in 100 milliseconds, and the kangaroo rat's reaction can happen in just 70 milliseconds.

They were also filmed using their moves on one another.

The 'ninja rats' were also filmed using their moves on one another. Credit: ninjarat.org

"These lightning-fast and powerful maneuvers, especially when executed in nature, tell us about the effective strategies for escaping high-performing predators," University of California-Riverside associate professor Timothy Higham said.

"Those that are successful at evading the strike will suggest ways in which the kangaroo rat might be evolving in response to the intricacies of the predatory movements."

And for the rats which aren't quite fast enough to avoid being caught, powerful hind leg kicks can help fight off the snakes - leading the scientists to jokingly begin referring to the creatures as 'ninja rats'.

Scientists recorded one which managed to kick a snake away with such force that it landed on the ground several feet away, while the rat escaped to safety.

The study was a joint effort between the University of California-Riverside, San Diego State University and UC Davis, and has been published in the journal Functional Ecology and the Biological Journal of the Linnean Society.