Let’s start with something nice…

Posted: October 30, 2012 in Mammal
Tags: , ,

When you think of hive like societies, mammals don’t usually spring to mind. But then, to be honest, mammals have a good press. They are usually all cute and furry, except for some of the marine ones, and even those always appear to be grinning. (Of course, with dolphins this is because they are fully anticipating their next atrocity…but more on that later).

The naked-mole rat, despite sounding like some bizarre sex move from an edition of the Karma Sutra that is banned absolutely everywhere, is not most mammals. The name is actually pretty descriptive – it lives underground, in burrows, it is hairless, and it is a rodent. What the name doesn’t tell you is that it lives in hives.  One female, and a few incredibly lucky males, basically spend the time breeding, all the while looked after by sterile females. Should the queen die (for which read “the abomination be purged”) another female loses her sterility and becomes the new queen, usually after a vicious period of fighting. It probably says something for the life-quality of naked mole rats that the chance of  becoming a female endlessly churning out pups, forever trapped underground, is worth fighting for. Just to put the cherry on it, a newborn naked mole rat pup can look forward to chowing down on the feces of its older brethren.

However, naked mole rats are interesting animals for two reasons. Firstly, they are eusocial – extremely social, hive like animals – like bees, wasps, and ants – and they sometimes form nests of up to three hundred individuals. Indeed, certain castes within mole rat societies are adapted to do different things – for example, larger ones defend the nests, whilst smaller ones forage and get food. Secondly, they are incredibly healthy animals (especially considering that they spend their formative years eating poo deep, deep underground, whilst their mother endlessly ruts with a couple of males). The longest living one was at least 28 years of age, which holds the record for rodent lifespan – especially considering that the previous record holder was a porcupine. Larger animals generally live much longer than smaller ones, and a naked mole rat is only 0.002% of the mass of a porcupine).

Perhaps even more amazingly, tumours have never been recorded in this species. Like, never. Scientists think this is because mole rats have a low threshold of contact inhibition – all animals have a mechanism by which cell division is arrested when cells reach a certain density. This happens at a much lower density in mole rats.

So there you have it. A bunch of ugly, crap eating, underground rats may have the cure to cancer.

Because sometimes God just forgets to add things. Like, in this case, fur.  And redeeming features. (from Wikimedia Commons)

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