The Kangaroo Rat Never Needs To Drink Water

By Jeff Kelly on Wednesday, October 23, 2013
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“Drinking when not thirsty and making love all the time, madam, is all that distinguishes us from other animals.” —Pierre de Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro

In A Nutshell

When you think of the perfect animal to survive in a desert setting, chances are you flash immediately to camels. After all, they’ve been reported to survive several months without a drop of water. However, they’ve got nothing on the kangaroo rat. That’s because the kangaroo rat can go literally its entire life without once drinking water.

The Whole Bushel

Quick, try thinking of animals that can survive for long periods of time without water. Obviously, the first one that popped into your head is the camel. They can reportedly go months (in extreme circumstances) without needing to drink. Another animal you may not have immediately thought of is the giraffe. Much like camels, due to the high water content in their food, they can go weeks without needing to stop at a watering hole where they awkwardly and comically stoop down to guzzle a dozen gallons. But both the giraffe and the camel do, eventually, need to drink water to continue on with their lives (a giraffe’s life consists primarily of eating about 35 kilos [75 lbs] of leaves each day and selling overpriced toys).

There is one creature, however, that absolutely puts both of these animals to shame when it comes to water retention, and no, we’re not talking about pregnant human women. Instead, we’re referring to the kangaroo rat, a rodent that’s native to the American Southwest and can, astonishingly, go its entire life without ever drinking a single drop of water.

The kangaroo rat, named as such because it has large, powerful back legs that allow it to jump up to 3 meters (9 ft) at once to avoid predators, survives primarily on seeds and beans that are high in water content, meaning every bit of water they actually need to survive is in the food they eat.

On top of that, the average lifespan for a kangaroo rat is up to 10 years in the wild, so while a camel can go months, this particular rodent can go an entire decade without water. Another reason they can survive so long without drinking water? It’s because they’re nature’s greatest urinators. Yes, a kangaroo rat’s kidneys are so efficient and its pee is so concentrated that it helps them survive without water for their entire life cycle. Behold, the powers of pee.

Show Me The Proof

Animal Fact Sheet: Merriam’s Kangaroo Rat
PBS Nature: Giant Kangaroo Rat