Predator and prey dynamics in nature can help animals become more deadly or develop better survival instincts.
In the case of the sidewinder rattlesnakes versus desert kangaroo rats, the rat has the advantage in this slow-motion video when the snake fails to kill its snack.
In the video, the kangaroo rat gets dangerously close to the snake lying in wait.
Suddenly, the rattlesnake snaps its jaws at the rat and in that moment, the rat quickly jumps out of the way and bonks the snake on its head.
The footage was captured by Malachi Whitford, doctoral student at San Diego State University, to observe predator-prey interactions in his study “Avoiding the serpent’s tooth.”
Whitford observed that desert kangaroo rats developed a survival technique where they repeatedly hop directly in front of rattlesnakes that “cause the snake to stop striking.”
“They are telling the snake that, ‘Once I detected you and I’ve told you that I detected you by displaying these behaviours, your likelihood of being able to hit me are gone.’”
There are several behaviours that kangaroo rats will make once they’ve detected the predator.
They perform a “jump back,” where they get incredibly close to the snake, occasionally to the point where they touch the snake’s nose, then quickly jump backwards and do this repeatedly.
“Foot drumming” uses its legs to “thump the ground,” either quickly or slowly, which causes vibrations that communicate with the rattlesnake.
The last behaviour, Whitford calls “sand kicking,” which the kangaroo rat turns its back on the snake and kicks up sand towards the snake.
In the video footage Whitford captured, the rattlesnake only attacked when the kangaroo rat was unaware of its presence.
“The snake strikes while the kangaroo rat is unaware, or the kangaroo rat becomes aware and performs a display to stop the snake from striking.”
The snake never attacks again, once the kangaroo rat is alerted.
Rattlesnakes conserve a lot of their energy so they’re usually not starving for food even if they have a high rate of failure when attacking kangaroo rats and other animals.
Whitford chose to study rattlesnakes because they often remain in one spot when hunting which is perfect if you’re trying to film high-speed footage.
“You can tell rattlesnakes are hunting because they illustrate these really conspicuous, stereotype ambush coils where they’ll sit, and just like a little disk in coil position, and just wait,” said Whitford.
Everything was filmed in infrared light as both creatures are nocturnal animals. As kangaroo rats forage for food at night, rattlesnakes prey on those that blindly get too close.