Underdogs of the Animal World: Naked Mole Rat
Let’s be honest here: we all harbour a deep-rooted and completely secret love for Kim Possible. Don’t worry, I won’t tell. I also won’t say anything about your habit of watching The Weekenders episodes back to back on YouTube whilst eating half a tray of cupcakes and dropping the rest on yourself. Don’t worry, I understand. Anyway, Kim Possible knows what’s going on. I mean, that’s like her job and everything, and even though Ron Stoppable knows, well, not much really, he knows what an awesome animal the Naked Mole Rat is.
The naked mole rat was first discovered by a German scientist called Eduard Rüppell in 1842, who just assumed that he’d found an ill version of something else. It wasn’t until a few more were found that people realised that it was an actual species.
Okay, so the naked mole rat might not be pretty, but it lives under the African desert, so the chances of it trying to chat you up in the mall are slim. In fact, if you were wandering around the African desert just minding your own business, the only evidence of our little naked friends would be random dirt flying out of the ground as they tunneled beneath your feet.
Speaking of, the naked mole rats aren’t really hairless. Also, they’re not moles OR rats, but approximately-one-of-the-hundred-whiskered-rodents-that-are-closely-related-to-hamsters doesn’t really have the same ring to it, though it might have helped with the PR situation. The hairs that they do have help them to navigate their way deep underground through their mole-made tunnels, which is handy since their eyes are so tiny that they’re practically blind.
Despite being kept in the dark, the naked mole rat has got its stuff together. Mole rats hang out in groups of up to 300 members and everyone has their own job. There are soldiers to guard against snakes, diggers to forge new tunnels, nurses to look after the pups and, unlike most mammals, the Queen. You see, naked mole rats saw what the bees were doing and thought, “That’s an awesome idea!” In a naked mole rat colony, there will be a queen and a few male mole rats who she breeds with. Then there’s everyone else, who will get no action at all.
The Queen mole rat is basically a bald Regina George. She will stalk (in a sort of scurrying fashion) through the corridors, intimidating other females and maybe even writing them down in her burn book, though scientists don’t know that for defs yet. The Queen makes sure that no-one else even thinks about breeding. She worked hard to get this position – she wasn’t just born into it, oh no. The Queen had to fight other females to the death after the last queen popped it, and then she had to stretch her spine (!) so that she was able to bear pups, so she’s pretty into the job. But when this one gets hit by a bus, (or dies of natural causes), there will be a new death match and a new queen.
Speaking of baby nole rats, once the Queen pops them out, (usually in litters of about eight pups, but some queens can give birth to up to 28!) they are kept in the nursery until they’re old enough to get a job. Yep, you read right – naked mole rats are classy creatures and pretty much have a Gatsby-style mansion down there, complete with nursery, pantry and bathroom. Okay, there’s no swimming pool, but Gatsby discovered that it mightn’t have been such a great idea anyway.
The baby mole rats exist mainly on a diet of poop until they can progress onto the tubers that the rest of the colony nibble on. But the poop action doesn’t stop there, oh no! Naked mole rats also like to roll around in the stuff so that they all smell the same, which, when you think about it, is quite clever but also gross. It means not only can they sniff out an enemy, but the enemy can sniff them and decide to eat something less icky. If an enemy does decide that he wants a piece of poop pie, the soldier mole rats will work together to scare it away.
Naked mole rats are awesome at working together. They usually find food by accident, literally by bumping into a tuber, and when they do, they let out a squeak, which sounds like a baby bird chirping. This lets the others know they’ve found food. They will then nibble off a chunk and drag it back to the pantry to share. Even though there’s a strict hierarchy in the colony, when food’s involved everyone’s equal. Mole rats use their teeth, which are actually in front of their lips, (so they don’t get dirt in their mouths whilst digging) independently, like chopsticks, and a tuber will last them a good few weeks until they bump into another one.
The coolest thing about naked mole rats is that they’re super tough. They don’t have pain receptors, so you could go all Jackie Chan on them and they wouldn’t feel a thing. They also don’t get cancer. Scientists are studying them right now to figure out why, but I think it’s because of their sheer awesomeness. That, or it’s the reparation for the fact that a Naked Mole Rat isn’t gonna win ANTM anytime soon.
If none of this has won you around to the Naked Mole Rat’s cause, how about I tell you that they’re also called Sand Puppies? No? Okay, how about THIS:
Yep. Thought so.
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