In this article on Naked Mole Rat facts, we are going to learn about this unique creation of Mother Nature.
This unusual animal has some really unique set of physical properties or traits that enable this [ugly-looking] creature to thrive in conditions that are not really cozy in any sense.
And yes, this animal has a particular physical trait that we humans will forever envy! So, let’s start with our list of Naked Mole Rat facts.
Naked Mole Rat Facts: 1-10
1. Is Naked Mole Rat a mole or a rat? This is one question that keeps confusing people. The name has both mole and rat in it. So, how do we classify it? Here is the answer: It is NEITHER A MOLE, NOR A RAT. It is actually a rodent.
2. Naked Mole Rat is closely related to Blesmols (that are simply referred to as mole-rats). Blesmols are basically burrowing rodents belonging to the family Bathyergidae.
3. The Naked Mole Rat, which is also a burrowing rodent, has its very own family called Heterocephalidae. Here is a quick classification of the Naked Mole Rat:
|Binomial name||Heterocephalus glaber|
*Please note that the Naked Mole Rat is the only species in the world which is classified under Heterocephalus genus.
4. Where is Naked Mole Rat found? This creature is endemic to East Africa. It is found in places like Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya etc.
5. What are the general characteristics of Naked Mole Rat? Here, take a look at the table below:
|Size||Including the head and the body: 3 inches to 13 inches|
|Tail||Up to 3 inches and is similar to that of a rat|
|Weight||Up to 3.3 pounds (lbs)|
|Legs||Short and thin – capable of moving both forward and backward at same speed|
|Eyes||Very small with very poor visual acuity|
|External ears||Not present.|
|Appearance||Wrinkled skin, tubular body, grayish-pink or pink skin|
|Environment||They live underground.|
6. Are Naked Mole Rats solitary animals? No, they are NOT. They actually live in colonies. Their colony size can be as small as 20 individuals and as big as up to 300 individuals.
7. They have a structured colony. Each colony has one dominant Naked Mole Rat. That dominant member is the Queen. The others are broken down into workers and soldiers.
8. The job of the Queen is to produce offspring. A Queen is not decided by birth. It is decided by a fight (which can end in death). Only the females fight and the one that becomes the winner gets to become the Queen of the clan.
9. The Queen Naked Mole Rat will copulate only and only with a selected few male members of the clan. Usually the clan or colony has fewer males than the number of females.
10. When a female becomes the Queen, she stretches and increases her vertebral space in her backbone. This allows her to become longer and then bear offspring.
Naked Mole Rat Facts 11-20
11. Even after a female becomes a Queen, she needs to keep fighting to ensure that her position remains secure. She has to often keep fighting other females who aspire to become Queen.
12. The Queen has another job too. She goes out inspecting chambers and tunnels of the colony to see if everything is in order. Those who misbehave or tend to show some kind of coup are bitten by and pushed by her, reminding that she is in charge.
13. What do the worker Naked Mole Rats do? These workers are responsible for several things:
- Digging tunnels.
- Foraging for food.
- Take care of pups of the Queen.
- Alarming in case of threat.
14. The worker Naked Mole Rats build intricate tunnels with separate chambers for the Queen and there are separate chambers for storing food. They also create a separate toilet chamber where all members of the colony go and do their job. Of course, they don’t have a shower.
15. If any predator enters the colony’s tunnels (for example, a snake), the worker Naked Mole Rats will quickly raise alarms, notifying the soldier Naked Mole Rats. The soldiers then come to defend.
16. What do the soldier Naked Mole Rats do? The defending tactics used by the soldiers is quite unique. They will just climb on top of each other, creating a vertical column and display their large and sharp teeth. The predator gets to see only several gnashing teeth sets!
17. The attacks of the soldiers are synchronized and they repeatedly bite the predator with their teeth thrash away the predator(s).
18. What do the Naked Mole Rats eat? They are herbivores. They will usually feed on roots and tubers. They barely go above the ground but if they do, they are usually looking for seeds.
19. They work as a community. In case a worker finds a new tasty food source (root or tuber), the worker will chop off a piece with its teeth and go running to the other members and starts waving the food and starts chirping.
20. The other workers will then follow and bring the food back to the storage chambers piece by piece. One tuber can last as a food source for the entire colony for several months and even more than a year.
Naked Mole Rat Facts 21-30
21. The Naked Mole Rats actually eat their own poop as well. Disgusting but needed! The reason they do this is that the tubers they eat are pretty difficult to digest. So, they eat their poop so extract more nutrient out of the food.
22. Do Naked Mole Rats drink water? Naked Mole Rats never dig for water. They don’t need to drink water simply because the extract all the moisture they need from the tubers and roots that they eat.
23. Where do Naked Mole Rats build their colonies? They usually thrive in the areas that have large numbers of plants with pretty large underground roots.
24. The tunnels they dig can be right under the surface or can reach up to the depth of 6.5 feet (2 meters). These tunnels have branches and interconnections. The total tunnel length can be up to 2.5 miles.
25. A particular colony’s tunnel system can be very large (in terms of area covered). The whole area covered by a single tunnel system of a typical Naked Mole Rat colony can be as large as the area covered by 6 football fields!
26. The chambers inside a tunnel system are located strategically to ensure that the whole system remains clean and healthy. The rooms or chambers are located at different points in a tunnel system and this ensures safety of the members of the colony.
27. It is not really unusual to have multiple tunnel systems located in close proximity. Each individual tunnel system is owned by a separate colony of Naked Mole Rats.
28. The question is, ‘if there are several tunnel systems in close proximity, how do the members of a particular colony identify the members of a different colony?’ They basically make use of their sense of smell because their eyesight is poor.
29. The members of each colony will go to their bathroom chamber and roll on the fecal matter and urine. This will give them a common smell.
30. When members of a different colony intrude or come in accidentally, they are identified easily with the smell. The members of a different colony will have a different type of smell.
Naked Mole Rat Facts 31-40
31. The Naked Mole Rats have large and long incisors. Those teeth are very sharp. Such teeth are necessary for cutting the tough tubers and roots.
32. Also, the large incisors aid in digging. Their lips remain tightly shut right behind their incisors when they are busy digging. This ensures that the soil doesn’t enter their mouths.
33. The incisors are pretty interesting. They can actually move separately. Yes, the large front teeth can spread apart and move independently just like chopsticks! These incisors keep growing throughout their whole lifetime.
34. Are Naked Mole Rats blind? As opposed to popular belief, they are not blind. They do have eyes – very tiny ones and they cannot see properly. They have poor eyesight.
35. How do Naked Mole Rats navigate? They have a very keen sense of smell and touch. They use these senses to navigate around in the underground tunnels.
37. Is there no hair on Naked Mole Rats at all? They do have hair. They have about 100 hair on their bodies. These hair are very fine and they actually help them to sense their surroundings. Yes, the hair acts like whiskers and are their primary sensory organs.
38. They have hair right between their toes as well. The hair between their toes help in sweeping back the soil that they dig when creating tunnels using their incisors.
39. Why don’t they have hair? The reason is simple. They live underground and since they stay away from the sun always, there is no need to have a body fully covered with hair to achieve insulation from the sun.
40. Since they have no hair, how do they keep themselves warm? They just cuddle up against each other in the form of a pile and make use of their body heat to keep each other warm. However, during winter months they may also move to shallow parts of the tunnels where the temperature is bit high and during summers, they may retreat to greater depths to stay cool
Naked Mole Rat Facts 41-50
41. Naked Mole Rats are adapted to live underground. This means they usually live with limited oxygen availability.
43. A Naked Mole Rat can stay alive in an environment of just 5% oxygen for nearly 5 hours. They can stay alive in an environment where the oxygen percentage is only 20% and carbon dioxide percentage is 80%.
44. In atmospheres with 0% oxygen, they can survive for 18 minutes. In such conditions, they will lose consciousness and their heartbeat will drop to 50 bpm (beats per minute) from 200 bpm. Breathing will stop but attempts of sporadic breathing will be there. No tissue damage happens during this period.
45. If the Naked Mole Rat goes through a phase of prolonged hunger, its metabolism will simply drop to 25% of the actual metabolism rate, allowing it to stay alive for longer periods without food.
46. Naked Mole Rats are thermoconformer animals. They are the world’s only mammal thermoconformers. This means that unlike other mammals who regulate their body temperature and keep it fixed at a specific temperature (known as homeostasis), these creatures do not do so.
47. They are thermoconformers, which means that as and when the surrounding temperature changes, their body temperature changes. This means that the Naked Mole Rats are poikilothermic.
48. Scientists have found that they can switch from being poikilothermic to homeothermic if the temperature reaches higher than 28°C. They will use behavioral thermoregulation when temperatures drop. For example, they will cuddle or bask in sun-warmed shallow areas of the tunnel and when they become hot, they will simply retreat to cooler areas of the tunnels at greater depths.
49. Coming to pain sensitivity, they don’t have something called Substance P. Substance P is a neurotransmitter that sends pain signals to the CNS or central nervous system. When exposed to capsaicin or acid, they just don’t feel pain.
50. Scientists actually injected them with Substance P and found that they start experiencing pain, but only to capsaicin but not to acids. This led the scientists to believe that since they live in a carbon dioxide-rich environment, acid buildup in the body is normal and hence, to prevent pain, they don’t have Substance P.
Naked Mole Rat Facts 51-60
51. Yes, yes, Naked Mole Rats are cancer-resistant. They accomplish this via several means. First line of defense is the presence of gene p27. This gene prevents cell division once a certain number is reached by a group of cells.
Unfortunately, earlier this year, scientists found two captive Naked Mole Rats that had tumors. Once the tumors were removed, they lived cancer-free. Scientists want to find out what caused the tumor as they are usually not prone to cancer. Source.
52. In addition to the p27 gene, they also have p16 gene in them. This p16 gene has pretty much the exact same function as p27 except that the threshold for the number of cells of p16 is lower compared to p27 gene.
53. Scientists also found out that they also produce high amounts of HMW-HA or extremely high-molecular-mass hyaluronan. It is a sugary substance – a lubricant that prevents cancer formation. In humans HMW-HA is 5 times less than that in Naked Mole Rats.
54. The same scientists who came up with the information on HMW-HA (the scientists are from University of Rochester) also found that the ribosomes that these creatures have produce proteins that are extremely error-free. Hence, no cancer.
55. Science – a journal – named the Naked Mole Rat as ‘Vertebrate of the Year’ for 2013 because of their HMW-HA and error-free proteins.
56. The Naked Mole Rats have unusually high lifespan among rodents. They can live up to 32 years. Well, no one really knows why they live so long but a couple of theories have been put forward. They are:
- Their protein stability is responsible for their longevity (remember they have error-free proteins).
- They can reduce metabolism rate substantially when needed and hence, the oxidative stress causing age-induced damage is very low and hence, the longevity.
57. The Queen of a colony will mate only with a few males in the colony. They will stay in relation for several years. Only the Queen remains capable of reproducing while other females in the colony will usually remain temporarily sterile.
58. The Queen will usually select male Naked Mole Rats that are not her kins and are unfamiliar to her. She does this to prevent inbreeding. The other sterile females will mate but will not produce any babies. Those reproductively inactive females will not have any male preference. They will copulate with just any male.
59. The Queen will have a gestation period of 70 days. She will then give birth to a litter of pups ranging between 3 and 12 in number. However, the litter may be as large as 28 pups. In the wild, the Queen will breed only 1 time a year provided the litter survives. If the litter fails to survive, she can mate again within the same year.
60. The Queen mother will nurse the newborn litter for just 1 month. After that, other members of the colony will feed the litter with fecal pap until they reach the age where they can eat solid food.