What is a Naked Mole Rat?
Naked mole rats are a species of cuddly, hairless rodents that inhabit colonies in underground tunnels and burrows in parts of Africa and the Middle East. These small animals are unique among mammals, as they are the only species known to live in large, eusocial colonies with a strict hierarchy of queen, breeding males, and non-breeders organized much like insects, such as ants and bees.
Naked mole rats have a very distinct physical appearance: they have pink skin and wrinkly bodies with large teeth, long whiskers, and small eyes. They are the only species of mammal that has no fur, and the lack of fur allows them to live in underground tunnels and burrows with high levels of humidity.
The Amazing Adaptations of the Naked Mole Rat
Due to the extreme conditions of their underground habitats, naked mole rats have developed many unique adaptations suited to their environment. Here are some of their most fascinating:
• Respiration: Naked mole rats can survive without oxygen for longer than any other mammal – up to 18 minutes – due to the fact that they produce much more of the sugar molecule fructose than other mammals and can use it as an energy source during oxygen deprivation.
• Temperature Tolerance: Naked mole rats are able to withstand temperatures up to 30° C, much higher than other species of mammals, which range between 0° and 15° C. This adaptation allows them to exploit their underground tunnel systems that can reach higher temperatures due to the earth’s natural insulation.
• Pain Resistance: Naked mole rats have no sensitivity to a chemical called capsaicin, which is found in chili peppers and is responsible for the ‘hot’ sensation that humans and other mammals experience when eating spicy foods. This means that they can consume chili peppers without feeling any pain or discomfort.
• Longevity: Naked mole rats are also known to have extraordinary lifespans, with some individuals living up to 30 years in captivity. This is significantly longer than other species of rodents, which usually live only between 3-5 years in the wild.
• Cancer Resistance: Perhaps the most remarkable adaptation of naked mole rats is their resistance to cancer, which is largely due to their low levels of a molecule called hyaluronan. Hyaluronan is present in high amounts in most mammals, and it is thought to play an important role in the progression of cancer — but naked mole rats produce low amounts of this molecule, making them virtually immune to cancer.
The Diet and Reproductive Habits of the Naked Mole Rat
The diet of the naked mole rat consists primarily of tubers and other underground plant matter, which they collect from the surrounding area. They are also known to eat some insects and grubs, as well as the occasional frog or small mammal.
Like other eusocial mammals, the naked mole rat has a highly structured reproductive system with a queen and several reproductive males. The queen is the sole individual in the colony that is able to produce offspring, while the other males help her to defend the colony and gather food. The non-breeders in the colony help to care for the young and guard the colony.
The Social Structure of the Naked Mole Rat Colony
Naked mole rats live in large colonies that are lead by a single female queen and her mate or mates. The queen is the only female in the colony that is able to reproduce, while the other males help her to defend the colony and gather food.
The colony is further divided into several distinct castes:
• Breeding Males: These are typically the oldest males in the colony and are responsible for finding food and defending the colony.
• Non-Breeders: These are the majority of males and females in the colony and are responsible for caring for the young and maintaining the tunnels.
• Juveniles: These are the young of the colony and are cared for by the non-breeders until they reach maturity.
In addition to the distinct castes, the colony also has several distinct roles that are filled by the breeding males. The dominant male is the leader of the colony and is responsible for protecting the colony against predators and finding food sources. The subordinate males play a support role and help to defend the colony and patrol for predators.
The Benefits of Keeping a Naked Mole Rat as a Pet
Despite their strange appearance, naked mole rats make delightful pets that are easy to care for and can live up to 20 years or more in captivity. Here are some other benefits of keeping a naked mole rat as a pet:
• Easy to Care For: Naked mole rats are easy to care for and require very little in the way of maintenance. They can be kept in cages with simple bedding and basic food and water dishes.
• Enjoy Human Interaction: Naked mole rats are social animals and enjoy interacting with their owners; they can even be trained to do simple tasks such as climbing onto a person’s hand.
• Low-Maintenance Pets: Unlike other small mammals, naked mole rats require very little grooming and are not known to cause any damage to furniture or fabric.
• Affordable Pets: Naked mole rats are very affordable pets compared to many other small mammals, and can be purchased from most pet stores for around $20.
• Good for Beginner Pets: Naked mole rats make a great pet for first-time owners, as they are incredibly hardy and can thrive even in less-than-ideal conditions.
Naked mole rats are extraordinary mammals, possessing many adaptations that allow them to survive their underground burrows and their strict social hierarchy. As pets, they are relatively low-maintenance, long-lived, and enjoy interacting with their owners. If you are in the market for an unusual and unique pet, a naked mole rat might be the right choice for you.