The kangaroo rat is tiny, but oh-so fast. Two new studies and a slow-motion video show how the rodents perform speedy maneuvers when a sidewinder rattlesnake comes along—including a powerful kick, National Geographic reports. "Both rattlesnakes and kangaroo rats are extreme athletes, with their maximum performance occurring during these interactions," Timothy Higham, co-author of both studies, says in a statement. This makes their high-speed cameras "excellent for teasing apart the factors that might tip the scale in this arms race." In the studies, scientists walked miles with nearly 500 pounds of gear to find sidewinders they had marked with radio transmitters. Then they watched and waited.
In time, a kangaroo rat would hop on over. But the snake's 100-millisecond ambush was unsuccessful more than half the time across 32 recorded attacks, LiveScience reports. That's because the rats reacted in as little as 38 milliseconds, and at times leaped clear in 70 milliseconds, well before the snake could inject its venom. Some rats even kicked the snake near the head and sent it flying. "What's really surprising about the new research is the fact that the [kangaroo rat] is actively kicking the snake mid-jump," says a researcher not involved in the study. "This is a new behavior that hasn’t been recorded before." Hingham says the best evasions "suggest ways" in which the rat "might be evolving" to avoid such fatal strikes. See the studies here and here. (Or see how boa constrictors really kill their prey.)