Let’s admit it… naked mole rats are in the “so ugly it’s kind of cute” category. Putting aside their somewhat grotesque appearance, these particular rats are incredibly hardy and amazing creatures. They are virtually a medical miracle. Read on to learn about the naked mole rat.
Description of the Naked Mole Rat
Have you ever seen an extremely elderly person’s wrinkly fingers? A naked mole rat looks similar to a pink, wrinkly, finger with little legs. They are entirely bald, save for a few singular hairs and whiskers. They have small eyes, and large teeth that are visible while their mouths are closed.
Interesting Facts About the Naked Mole Rat
A list of facts about naked mole rats could practically go on forever! These creatures have a number of extremely unique traits, with potential uses in the medical field.
- A Cold Blooded Mammal? – Naked mole rats are the only mammals that cannot regulate their internal body temperature. They are thermoconformers, which means that their body remains the same temperature as the environment around them (similar to snakes and lizards).
- Don’t Hold Your Breath – The naked mole rat has an incredible tolerance for low oxygen levels. This trait is helpful when you live underground where air circulation is minimal. These animals can survive for up to 18 minutes with no oxygen, and they can survive for 5 hours in 5% oxygen!
- Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones – But mole rats just won’t feel it! Naked mole rats’ skin is literally impervious to pain, as it lacks the neurotransmitters that tell the brain when pain is being inflicted. This means that these rats cannot feel pain, at all.
- Cancer Free – Naked mole rats are incredibly resistant to cancer. The first instances of cancerous tumors ever found in these rats were in 2016. These tumors were found in animals born in a zoo, and it is believed that the oxygen level in their habitat may have been the cause. The zoo mole rats were kept in a 21% oxygen environment, while in nature the creatures would most often live in an environment with just 2-9% oxygen levels.
Habitat of the Naked Mole Rat
Naked mole rats live exclusively in dry, arid desert habitats. They dig extensive tunnel systems beneath the ground, which can be up to three miles in total length.
Distribution of the Naked Mole Rat
Mole rats live exclusively in East Africa. They are found predominately in Somalia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. These creatures are found nowhere else in the world, except in zoos.
Diet of the Naked Mole Rat
Naked mole rats feed almost exclusively on large plant tubers. A tuber is a large section of a plant’s root that is used to store nutrients. The tubers are much larger than the rats, and can sustain an entire colony for months or even years. The mole rats eat the interior of the tuber, allowing the plant to survive and continue growing.
Naked Mole Rat and Human Interaction
Most humans are not particularly fond of desert life, and thus do not tend to interact frequently with naked mole rats. Mole rats are, however, used quite frequently in scientific research, where the opportunities for study are boundless. Humans have sequenced the entire genome of the naked mole rat. We have examined their resistance to cancer, extremely long lifespan, and resistance to oxygen deprivation.
Naked mole rats have been studied, but not domesticated.
Does the Naked Mole Rat Make a Good Pet
Naked mole rats should not be kept as pets. They require a very specific diet and habitat. It would be incredibly difficult to care for them properly.
Naked Mole Rat Care
In zoological institutions, naked mole rats are fed a specially prepared rodent diet. This is supplemented with yams (a type of tuber), carrots (another tuber), leafy greens, corn, and fruits. The San Diego Zoo’s naked mole rats are incredibly fond of bananas.
These rats are kept in an artificial tunnel system, which is built specifically to allow the animals numerous chambers for feeding, sleeping, and bathroom duties.
Behavior of the Naked Mole Rat
Naked mole rats have a social system that is quite similar to colonial insects. There are numerous “worker” rats, none of which are capable of breeding. The colony has a single queen, who is slightly larger than the rest of the animals. The queen is the only naked mole rat that is able to reproduce. This is known as a eusocial lifestyle.
Reproduction of the Naked Mole Rat
The mole rat queen keeps up to three unrelated males around at all times to breed with. She may keep these males close and breed with them for consecutive years, or go through periods where she does not reproduce. About two months after breeding, the queen gives birth to an average of eleven pups. In the wild, the queen will breed once per year.