Feb
14
2010

All hail the Naked Mole Rat!

Naked Mole Rat: a mighty survivor both hairless and nearly blind
Naked Mole Rat: a mighty survivor both hairless and nearly blindCourtesy MissTessmacher
The naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is truly one of the most remarkable animals on this earth. On average 3 inches long and weighing just over an ounce, one would not think this creature so high and mighty. However, its unusual traits have brought it under more medical scrutiny and established an ever increasing presence in research laboratories. Stories have rung for years about how the only species to survive a world Armageddon would be cockroaches and rats. My money is on the naked mole rat.

While called a rat, they are one of 37 species of mole rats globally and are more closely related to guinea pigs and porcupines than other Rodentia. Limited to parts of East Africa, they spend their lives under ground in a highly social commune of individuals, all governed by a queen. This is very similar to the eusociality seen in bees and ants. The queen is the only female to breed, with all other individuals serving as guards or workers. This unusual social life for a mammal in a colony can lead to fierce competitions among females when the old queen dies. It may take days or weeks of power struggle before life in the colony returns to normal.

In search of plant tubers for sustenance, they dig through the dirt with their teeth, developing a system of burrows that can carry on for miles. One of the naked mole rats remarkable features is its ability to survive in the high carbon dioxide environments of these tunnels. Their extremely low metabolic rate and high absorption of oxygen allow them to overcome the limitations of the cramped and congested space. Research has found that these mole rats are void of a pain transmitter called Substance P found in other mammals, and have an uncanny resistance to the oxidative stress of daily metabolism.

Researchers hope this could lead to new insights into the process of aging. Captive research colonies have had individuals live as long as 28 years. That is more than nine times as long as a research mouse! This longevity and unique durability lead even more scientists to consider the naked mole rat for captive study populations in the fight against other afflictions like stroke and cancer. If these superman-like traits haven’t given you a deeper appreciation for such a tiny hairless creature, perhaps you just need a clever ditty to sing their praises. Oh! …you so UGLY!

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

katje_'s picture
katje_ says:

I had never heard of these before. Cute little things.

posted on Sun, 02/14/2010 - 7:58pm
shanai's picture
shanai says:

This reminds me of that Errol Morris film, "Fast, Cheap & Out of Control" If you haven't seen it, this documentary is really quirky and interesting, profiling a Naked Mole Rat expert who makes museum exhibits for and about these creatures.

posted on Sun, 02/14/2010 - 8:12pm
catlover's picture
catlover says:

I have heard of these things I think. They were in this science magazine I get and they were featured in an article called "Why Do We Fear Them?" and it was about why certain animals give us the creeps when they're harmless. Here it's easy to see; this thing is ugly!

posted on Sun, 06/27/2010 - 1:06pm

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