Portrait of a naked mole rat worker

Naked mole rat

Naked mole rats may not be the world's most beautiful animals, but they are fascinating. They have no fur, but aren't completely hairless: sensory whiskers on the nose and tail help them navigate dark underground tunnels. The queen is the only female in the colony that breeds and her offspring devote their lives either to protecting the colony or digging burrows with their powerful, ever-growing incisors. Naked mole rats can live for over 20 years, an age unprecedented in small rodents. Unlike most other mammals, naked mole rats can't maintain steady body temperature - they are essentially cold-blooded.

Scientific name: Heterocephalus glaber

Rank: Species

Common names:

  • Desert mole rat,
  • Sand puppy

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Distribution

The Naked mole rat can be found in a number of locations including: Africa. Find out more about these places and what else lives there.

Habitats

The following habitats are found across the Naked mole rat distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.

Tropical grassland Tropical grassland
Tropical grasslands include the savanna usually associated with Africa, and savanna-type grasslands found in India, Australia, Nepal and the Americas. They are characterised by drought-resistant shrubs and grasses, dotted with trees such as acacias or baobabs.

Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web

Conservation Status

Least Concern

  1. EX - Extinct
  2. EW
  3. CR - Threatened
  4. EN - Threatened
  5. VU - Threatened
  6. NT
  7. LC - Least concern

Population trend: Stable

Year assessed: 2008

Classified by: IUCN 3.1

The naked mole rat up close

Though many people find naked mole rats unattractive, a close look under the pink, saggy sking reveals a fascinating animal with complex social behaviour.

Diet

If you see a plant suddenly disappearing in an African desert, it's probably the work of a mole rat! The animals dig tunnels over a kilometre long in search of plants, and then tug them underground by their roots without risking exposure in the open. They make the most of the food available by 'farming' plants: when they come across a large tuber, they eat only a bit at a time, allowing the plant to survive and provide them with fresh food for many years.

Habitat

Naked mole rats live in underground burrows in very dry areas of East Africa. Their burrows remain at an almost constant temperature, while that of the desert above changes from scorching during the daytime, to very cold at night. The animals never need to drink, because they get all the fluid they need from water-rich food and the moist burrow air.

Social behaviour

The most remarkable thing about all mole rats, but especially Damaraland and naked mole-rats, is their social behaviour. Naked mole rat colonies are usually about 80 strong (although they can be as large as 300), but only a few males and one female actually breed. The rest behave in a similar way to workers and soldiers in an ants' nest, purely serving the colony.

This structure has developed because of the need for intense group activity when finding food. For many months the soil is too hard to tunnel, so when it does rain the colony needs to dig rapidly to find enough food to see them through the next dry season. To ensure the survival of the colony, the litters stay with their mother and help raise their brothers and sisters. If all the litters dispersed, the colony would be too small to survive and the youngsters would have little chance of finding a mate and a suitable place to live.

Interesting feature

Naked mole rat colonies are dominated by a single, large female. Research is still being carried out to discover how the dominant female stops others in the colony from breeding, but however it's done, the effect is only temporary.

When the breeding female dies, other females in the colony begin to develop eggs within 7-10 days of her death. The older females are the first to develop eggs and often fight to the death for the right to become the breeding female. The winner grows in size, mates with the breeding males and becomes the new queen of the colony.

Classification

  1. Life
  2. Animals
  3. Vertebrates
  4. Mammals
  5. Rodents
  6. Mole rats
  7. Heterocephalus
  8. Naked mole rat

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