WordReference Random House Unabridged Dictionary of American English © 2020
desert rat′, 
  1. Mammalsany of various small rodents, as the kangaroo rat, inhabiting arid regions.
  2. Dialect Terms[Chiefly Western U.S.]one who lives in the desert, esp. in order to prospect for gold or other valuable minerals.
  3. [Informal.]a soldier fighting in the N African desert in World War II, esp. a British soldier.
  • 1905–10, American.

Collins Concise English Dictionary © HarperCollins Publishers::
desert rat n
  1. a jerboa, Jaculus orientalis, inhabiting the deserts of N Africa
  2. Brit informal a soldier who served in North Africa with the British 7th Armoured Division in 1941–42
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