Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat

Dipodomys merriami

Order: Rodentia

Husbandry Information

Housing Requirements

  • Kangaroo rats need dust baths to keep their fur clean

Diet Requirements

  • In the wild, kangaroo rats eat seeds, vegetation, and insects. Their diet will vary seasonally, with more vegetation in the summer and more insects in the winter.
  • In captivity, this species is given seed mix, fresh fruits and vegetables, and rodent blocks.
  • They do not need to drink water, as they can absorb all the water they need from their food.

Veterinary Concerns

  • There are 23 known species of kangaroo rat. Merriam’s kangaroo rats are hardier than other species of kangaroo rat.

Notes on Enrichment & Training


Colony or Breeding Management


Individual Identification


Programmatic Information


Temperature Guidelines



Tips on Presentation

Touching Techniques

Tips on Handling


Potential Messaging

  • Climate change: Desert and Dryland species have specific adaptations for the temperature and water availability in their natural habitat and may not be able to adjust to the drying effects of climate change. Hotter conditions promote wildfires. More extreme drought conditions kill plants that hold the soil in place and occasional extreme rain events wash that soil away preventing them from growing back in a process called desertification. Greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere. Please ask guests to walk, bike, or take public transportation when possible and to reduce their use of fossil fuels when they do drive by buying a fuel economic car, carpooling, combining errands, and keeping vehicles properly tuned up and their tires properly inflated. At home and work, purchase Energy Star appliances, turn off lights when they are not in use, and use heaters and air conditioners sparingly. The principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle will also help by decreasing greenhouse gas emissions involved with the manufacture and disposal of unnecessary goods.

Acquisition Information

  • Philadelphia Zoo: Hard for inexperienced handlers; visitors are not particularly interested in them


Comments from the Rating System

Natural History Information

Range and Habitat

Merriam’s kangaroo rat is found in the deserts of Utah, Nevada, California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico in the United States, and in Mexico. They will create shallow burrows with multiple entrances. Entrance holes are usually by the base of a plant.

Physical Description

Buff colored to match the sand, these small rodents have four toes, big heads, and large eyes. They have small front feet and large hind feet, which gives them a “kangaroo-like” appearance. They have extra pouches on each cheek for storing food. Coloration can vary from dark gray to pale cinnamon.
On average, Merriam kangaroo rats weigh 40 to 50 grams and are about 10 inches long. Over half of that length, however, is the tail (5 to 6 inches of tail, and only 3 to 4 inches of body.) Males are larger than females.

Life Cycle

Breeding season occurs from January through August. After a 29 day gestation period, a female kangaroo rat will give birth to 1 to 5 young (the average is 3 young per litter.) Weaning occurs 24 to 33 days after birth.
Actual life span for this species is unknown. Based on similar species, it is most likely 2-3 years in the wild, 9-10 years in captivity.


Merriam’s kangaroo rats are solitary animals. Burrows will only contain one individual, unless it is a female raising her young.
This species is very nocturnal: during a full moon, it will spend less time outside of the borrow to avoid the brighter nights.
When excited, kangaroo rats will kick sand and drum their feet.

Threats and Conservation Status

There is no special conservation status for this species. There is some concern in some areas of their range that this species is loosing territory due to urbanization. A similar species, the San Bernardino kangaroo rat, was listed as endangered in 1998. Common predators include owls, foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and snakes. To escape pursuing predators, they will jump 1-2 feet into the air, and then quickly jump away.

Did you know…

  • Merriam’s kangaroo rats are more closely related to squirrels than to rats and mice.
  • This species was first described in 1890.




Contributors and Citations

  • The Philadelphia Zoo
  • Houston Zoo, Natural Encounters

Top Photo: By Connor Long – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,