2. First of all, you should know that naked mole rats live in highly sophisticated colonies underground in burrows. Those burrows can cover the amount of area equivalent to SIX FOOTBALL FIELDS.
A colony is composed of 20 to 300 individual naked mole rats.
Other than the occasional volcano-like hole that they create above ground in order to push dirt out, there’s practically no sign of the colony’s presence to those above ground. There you are, standing nonchalantly upon the earth, with no idea that NAKED MOLE RATS RULE THE WORLD BENEATH YOU.
3. Also, they have queens, and are one of the only two species of mammals that are eusocial, meaning that their biological and social organization is based on a hierarchy.
Other commonly discussed eusocial animals are bees and ants.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the other eusocial mammal is another kind of mole rat.
(Also, make sure to check out the digger, sweeper, and volcanoer sequence going on near the top right. SO COOL.)
4. Oh, and if you ever thought human builders were impressive, you should know that naked mole rats dig ENTIRE CITIES with their teeth and noses!
They dig tunnel complexes to live in using their teeth and snouts. The burrows include rooms for different purposes including the nursery and the bathroom.
Naked mole rats’ front teeth protrude from their mouths so they can dig without getting a mouth full of dirt.
European moles use their claws to dig, so they’re not nearly as interesting in the teeth department, nor as attractive.
6. And in case you’re wondering why none of the other mole rats reproduce, it’s because they use INTIMIDATION as a form of birth control.
The queen bosses around the other members of the colony, literally pushing them around and forcing them into submission. Scientists have found that this behavior reduces the fertility of the other rats, stating, “the stressful domination reduces fertility hormone levels — effectively suppressing puberty in young mole-rats, lowering sperm counts in males and even turning off the female ovulatory cycle.” Oh, and the queen suppresses the hormones of the breeding males until it’s time for her to procreate.
8. The princess is given privileges above the other babies in the beginning of her life, but once she reaches reproductive maturity it’s her job to GO FORTH AND FIND LOVE.
She leaves at night, searching for a distinctive scent indicating a male ready for breeding. She then follows him to his burrow where the two will begin a new life together, establishing their own colony.
Being above ground is extremely dangerous for a young naked mole rat, so the princess literally risks everything to find love. It’s all very courageous and romantic, you must admit.
9. OK, so another cool thing about naked mole rats? They have well-developed eyes, but their BRAIN HAS LOST THE ABILITY TO PROCESS SIGHT. Yep, that’s right. They COULD see, but they’ve just evolved to a point of not needing to.
Instead they have sensory whiskers on their snout and tail to help them get around.
(Oh, and just in case you were wondering if the mole rat in this photo is perfecting his form for the high dive, he’s actually in the submissive position. No diving going on here.)
10. Also? Naked mole rats are much less reliant on oxygen than other mammals are. They can go for several minutes without it and brain activity can be fully restored afterward, unlike other animals that suffer brain damage.
There are a few factors that have made this possible, including highly effective hemoglobin, which is able to gather oxygen molecules even when they’re very sparse. In addition, naked mole rats’ metabolic rate is only 70% of other rodents, decreasing the rate at which they use oxygen.
11. Naked mole rats eat the roots of large plants and expand their burrows to find more food. Also, if need be, they can eat their own feces.
Yep, I said it: feces.
Though, to be fair, it should be noted that they are fastidious with their hygiene, only using designated spaces as bathrooms as to keep the other sections of the burrow clean. But yeah, they eat poop.
12. Oh, also? They feel no pain. NO PAIN.
Naked mole rats don’t respond to irritants that usually would cause unbearable burning in other animals.
So basically they’ve evolved to have abnormal activity in the C-fibers of their nerves. Those are the fibers that normally react to high levels of CO2 and other chemical irritants (and are the causes of chronic pain following injury for other animals). Instead, the naked mole rats’ C-fibers penetrate into the dorsal horn of the spinal cord, but do NOT target the central nervous system, so the sensation of pain is not communicated and expressed.
13. And if you thought that was impressive, you should also know that the naked mole rat DOESN’T GET CANCER.
When scientists inject other animals (such as humans, mice, and cattle) with oncogenes, they tend to develop highly aggressive forms of cancer. You know who doesn’t? You guessed it: the naked mole rat. Even five years later, the mole rats were cancer-free. According to The Scientist, “naked mole-rat tissues are better able to recognize abnormal cells, neutralize their tumorigenic properties, and repair their DNA. Should that fail, the cells are ushered into programmed cell death pathways.”
(Check out this article for more interesting observations regarding naked mole rats and cancer, and this one for more info about their genome analysis! Oh, and this piece talks about the chemical that researchers have discovered to be a crucial link between the naked mole rat and cancer avoidance.)
14. Naked mole rats also have impressively long lifespans, living up to 20 or 30 YEARS.
They maintain relatively good health throughout their lives, and only begin to exhibit signs of aging in their twenties (and in rodent years, a mole rat that’s 26 years old is equivalent to a 105-year-old human being!).
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