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Naked Mole Rat Fact Sheet

  • Latin Name

    Heterocephalus glaber
  • Class

    Mammals
  • Order

    Rodentia
  • Range

    This unusual species is found only in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia.

  • Habitat

    They occupy underground burrows beneath savannah and grasslands near the equator. Where food is more abundant, so are naked mole rats.

  • Niche

    This species is eusocial-one female leads the colony, which is primarily composed of male and female workers. A normal colony contains about 70 members. As individuals rarely leave their group, inbreeding is common, resulting in genetically similar colony members.

    The burrows in which naked mole rats live are complex. Tunnels link chambers dedicated as nests, toilets and pantries. Subsisting on the underground parts of plants, naked mole rats don't need to drink water, since this food supply is moist.

  • Life History

    Only the queen in each colony produces offspring. She mates with just a few males. Other colony members care for pups and defend the burrows. Queens can produce five litters per year, with as many as two dozen pups per litter. These pups begin maintaining the burrows by three weeks of age. Within a year they're fully mature. Naked mole rats spend their lives below ground.

  • Special Adaptations

    • Almost completely blind, naked mole rats rely on sharp hearing and an acute sense of smell. They also detect vibrations in the ground and air currents.
    • When she becomes queen, the female grows longer by increasing the distance between the vertebrae in her spine.
    • Those (relatively) huge incisors never stop growing. And they're powered by (relatively) powerful muscles. Naked mole rats' lips can close behind their teeth, preventing dirt from entering the mouth.
    • When expanding a burrow, naked mole rats work in an assembly line, with a digger passing dirt back to sweepers, who pass it along to the volcanoer, who kicks it out of the tunnel. They dig most often at the end of the rainy season, when soil is soft.
    • Though they're mammals, naked mole rats can't maintain their body temperature, so they huddle in large masses to slow heat loss. They may also bask in tunnels nearest the surface. 
    • Naked mole rats eat feces, enabling them to maximize nutritional gain from food.

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