Monday, August 24, 2009

The Naked Mole Rat: Ugly, but Weird

"The Naked Truth about Mole-Rats"
Zoogoer, Smithsonian National Zoological Park (May June 2002)

"Endowed with pinkish-gray, wrinkly skin, scant hair, and long buck teeth, naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) aren't likely to win any beauty contests. Some might refer to them as downright ugly, resembling an overcooked hotdog with teeth. Nonetheless, biologists and zoogoers are enchanted with these bizarre rodents.

"Naked mole-rats spend virtually their entire lives in the total darkness of underground burrows...."

The Zoogoer article points out that, despite the name, mole rats are more closely related to porcupines, chinchillas and guinea pigs than to either moles or rats.

It's longer than most pieces on the Web: over 2,500 words.

The language is fairly non-technical, but Zoogoer's "The Naked Truth about Mole-Rats" gives a fairly detailed description of the behavior and biology of mole rats, or sand puppies, as they're called in sub-Saharan Africa.

Their oddness goes 'way past appearance. They're "eusocial" creatures - the only mammals that live in colonies with physically distinct castes, like the social insects. They don't regulate their internal temperature, either - which makes them very odd mammals.

I wouldn't recommend the article for light reading during coffee break, but it's a quite good resource for someone wanting the inside scoop on Africa's mole rats.

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