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Tests revise image of kangaroo rats

11:17am, October 15, 2002

The textbook case of how to survive in a desert may have important details wrong, according to new studies of kangaroo rats.

Species in the genus Dipodomys, nocturnal rodents that scurry through North America's deserts, have epitomized toughness in punishing climates, says Randall Tracy of the University of Connecticut in Storrs. Earlier researchers, he says, marveled at how the creatures apparently got water by metabolizing seeds and avoided overheating by staying in cool burrows until late at night.

In an upcoming issue of Oecologia, Tracy and Glenn E. Walsberg from Arizona State University in Tempe challenge those views. They made their observations near Yuma, Ariz., in the Sonoran desert.

The animals' burrows get hotter than expected, the researchers found. For more than 100 days of the year, soil temperatures rose to over 30C at depths of 2 meters.

Yet during most of the summer, the kangaroo rats remained less than a meter deep, where

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