Trivia Tuesday: Naked Mole Rat

naked mole rat
Smithsonian/National Zoological Society

Every Tuesday we'll share a few fun animal facts with you from experts all over the country.

This week we're learing about the humorously named naked mole rat. We talked to David S. Kessler, biologist at the Small Mammal House at the National Zoo.

  • The naked mole rat is definitely a mammal — it suckles its young, and, despite its name, does have some hair. But unlike other mammals, it is basically cold-blooded; its body temperature is determined by the temperature of the environment.
  • Naked mole rats have a social system like almost no other vertebrate — they live in a colony like bees or ants. The naked mole rats live in extensive underground burrows containing up to 200 individuals.  In fact, if you separate one mole-rat from its colony for an extended period of time, it will die.
  • Naked mole rat societies are like a cross between a nudist colony and a socialist dictatorship. Only the queen gets to have offspring, and everyone else serves her by raising the kids and building the tunnels. And the queen needs all the help she can get: She gives birth to anywhere from ten to over two dozen young at a time.
  • Twenty-five percent of the naked mole rat’s muscle mass is in its jaw. That's as much as you have in each leg. Their big front teeth stick out even when their mouths are closed, so they can dig tunnels without eating dirt. They can also move their incisors independently of each other.
  • Naked mole rats can run just as fast backwards as forwards, so there's no need to turn around in a tight burrow.
  • Naked mole rats roll around in the burrow's toilet chambers to anoint themselves with their colony's odor. Mole rats hate strangers and will kill unfamiliar-smelling members of another colony that dig into their burrows. So, better off poop- and urine-scented than dead.
  • You might not think there's much reason to envy the naked mole rat, but you'd be wrong. They're incredibly long lived for a small animal — the oldest in captivity so far died at the age of 32 — and they never get cancer. Naked mole rats are also impervious to certain kinds of pain; they don't feel the burning sensations caused by acid and hot peppers, for example. The ability to eat all the salsa they might want is wasted on them, though, since their diet consists of just roots and tubers they find underground.
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