Saturday, July 25, 2009

I'm a scientist! Pt 3

So what do I actually study?

Since I'm trying to milk this for all its worth, let's just start with my study organism: kangaroo rats!
Specifically I study banner-tailed kangaroo rats, Dipodomys spectabilis. They're nocturnal rodents that live in the Southwestern US and Mexico. Their entire diet consists solely of seeds - they don't even drink water. They've adapted to the desert life by being extremely efficient at conserving water. For example, their urine (when they rarely pee) is 24% salt - ours is 6%. How do they do it? Simply put, the path from their lungs to the outside air is long enough that the water vapor cools and condenses before it escapes the body - and they sniff it back up. This allows them to only lose 5% of the water we'd lose in respiration.

Oh, and they're adorable:That silver thing you see on it's ear isn't a staple of kangaroo rat fashion - they're ear tags. Each contains a unique number, and we use them to keep track of each individual. We trap them during the summer and we're able to tell if they've changed homes since last year, who they're living with, how much they've grown, etc. We also take small ear snips so we have tissue to do DNA testing with. There's really an endless about of studies we can do using this data, but so far most of the work has focuses on dispersal, inbreeding, and paternity.

Did I mention they were adorable?
Their main predators are coyotes (rarely), owls/hawks (commonly), and rattle snakes (frequently). I just because I was lucky to get the photo, here's one in action (the krat was less lucky):This is post 23 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

3 comments:

  1. Agh. That is absurdly cute.

    And now I'm off for dinner. Whoo.

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  2. Is this one of the first large studies on kangaroo rats? It must be, because you don't really hear too much about them.

    And that action photo of the rattlesnake is badass.

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