Weird Science: A Kangaroo Rat’s Unhappy Flight

The life of a kangaroo rat. If you think your life is hard, that too many crazy things just happen to you and you have no control what-so-ever, just think of him. Not only does he contend with attacks from above and below, he is regularly swept up by strong winds AND humans on a weird science quest to determine windspeeds!

“The kangaroo rat has proved to be a useful unit of measurement for the upward speed of a dust devil. Or so concluded one researcher in 1947, according to the scientific literature: Having noted that dust devils sometimes snatch up these luckless creatures, the investigator measured the speed at which a kangaroo rat falls when dropped from a tower. From this observation he was able to calculate that the upward speed of dust devils must be at least twenty-five miles an hour. He further observed that the kangaroo rat was angered by this employment but unhurt. Since California’s Mojave Desert, as an example, can host thousands of dust devils a day, evolution may have furnished the oft-lofted kangaroo rat with a crashproof anatomy.”

The Secret Life of Dust by Hannah Holmes
Weird science experiment "lab rat"
A rescue from the cat.
Those fluffy bouncing tails
are just too tempting!

You come up from your burrow to the surface, squinting your big black eyes at the brightness. The sun is low on the horizon, casting long shadows of joshua trees and cholla across the ground, perfect hiding places from predators up above. You take some tentative hops out onto the hot desert floor, your little rat feet barely noticing the sandy 150-degree surface.

A warm breeze brushes past your short whiskers and you sniff…smells dry and dusty. You stop, lean back on your giant back legs (the better to jump with my dear) and take a long look around. That ridge there looks promising for delicious seeds. Dropping forward into a long fast hop to the next shady spot, the breeze gets stronger and your whiskers twitch in alarm.

You lean in and pick up speed, your big but stout ears can hear the roar of the wind coming on like a freight train (if you knew what one was). Suddenly, you’re airborne, tumbling through the sky, fluffy tufted tail over tiny nose and around again.

“Not again,” you grumble to yourself as you spin through the air along with pieces of paper, abandoned grocery bags, and loose sand. Bits of rocks and twigs bite your ears as you tumble and turn in the air with them. “Where will I land this time? And how long will it take me to find my burrow? My wife just won’t believe it happened again!”

As quickly as you were picked up, the dust devil drops you back onto the hot desert floor like a human toddler tired with its toy. You roll along the ground and land head down with your back smack against a large rock, a rock larger than you, anyway. Righting yourself, you shake your head in disgust, throwing the fine sand from your ears and take stock of your situation.

You have no idea where you are. Everything looks familiar, but the smells here are so different. “How many miles from home has that devil taken me this time?” A few tentative hops tell you that nothing is broken, just a bit battered and confused, when you’re suddenly pounced on by a cat and brought into the human house like a toy, or worse, scooped up by a lab coat wearing researcher to be dropped ON PURPOSE, your fall timed with precision, all in the name of science!

I wrote about this wonderful book back in January. Hop over the post, “The Secret Life of Dust” by Hannah Holmes to read my first thoughts on it.

Have you read this book? Want to read along with me? Go get The Secret Life of Dust and leave me a comment about your thoughts on it. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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