from The New York Times



AGROUP of scientists studying the naked mole rat, a rare hairless rodent that lives in East Africa, have recently found that the seldom-seen creature has one of the most bizarre social behavior patterns of any mammal in the animal kingdom.

Little had been known about the three-inch-long rodents, which spend their entire lives in underground colonies. The researchers, however, found to their amazement that communities of up to 80 or more of the rodents lead an existence in a closed-in underground complex like that of an insect colony and, in many ways, behave exactly like insects.

Their findings included these unusual behavior patterns never before known to exist in rodents:

  • One female, selected by methods still unknown, becomes the ”queen” of the colony and, like the queen in a wasp colony, is the only breeding female in the community. The mole rat queen becomes much larger than other females in the colony.
  • If the queen is removed from the colony, a few of the remaining females grow larger and seek to take her place. One will prevail and become the new queen.
  • Although simpler than the social hierarchy of honeybees or ants, the organization of a naked mole rat colony requires both males and females to perform many specialized chores. These categories include food carriers, nest builders, garbage collectors, tunnel diggers and nursemaids to the queen.

[ click to continue marvelling at the Naked Mole Rat @ NYT ]