NAKED MOLE RATS: January Rains

It’s rainy season now in the African countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. And with the rains comes a sudden start in the underground activities of this region’s subterranean rodents, the Naked Mole Rats. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

We’re hearing the chirping sounds of the Naked Mole Rats, hairless rodents that are rarely — if ever — seen above ground. But this time of year, it’s possible to see some above-ground evidence of mole rat activity.

“The rains have started and the mole rats are beginning their activity. You see little volcano shaped mounds all around the habitat. They look a little like ant mounds but they’re actually erupting volcanoes of mole rat earth.”

Paul Sherman is a Professor of Animal Behavior at Cornell University. He explains that the soil the mole rats live in is normally baked brick hard by the constant dry heat of northeastern Africa. It’s only during two short rainy seasons that the soil becomes soft enough for the mole rats to tunnel through in search of their favorite meal, tubers. Now, since a single tuber can feed a mole rat colony for months, this month, these little guys are digging as fast and as far as they can.

“The mole rat tunnels are vast. A colony of eighty mole rats which is an average colony size, may have between two and three miles of tunnels under the ground which are all dug in the context of finding these tubers.”

And once the mole rats have found a tuber, instead of eating it up right away, they treat it as a sustainable resource.

“When the animals have eaten a good deal of the tuber, they plug it up with earth and then the tuber regenerates and they come back later and eat from it again. So they’re subterranean farmers.”

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I’m Jim Metzner.

NAKED MOLE RATS: January Rains

With January’s rainy season in northeast Africa comes a sudden start to the burrowing of the Naked Mole Rats.
Air Date:01/26/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

It's rainy season now in the African countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia. And with the rains comes a sudden start in the underground activities of this region's subterranean rodents, the Naked Mole Rats. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

We're hearing the chirping sounds of the Naked Mole Rats, hairless rodents that are rarely -- if ever -- seen above ground. But this time of year, it's possible to see some above-ground evidence of mole rat activity.

"The rains have started and the mole rats are beginning their activity. You see little volcano shaped mounds all around the habitat. They look a little like ant mounds but they're actually erupting volcanoes of mole rat earth."

Paul Sherman is a Professor of Animal Behavior at Cornell University. He explains that the soil the mole rats live in is normally baked brick hard by the constant dry heat of northeastern Africa. It's only during two short rainy seasons that the soil becomes soft enough for the mole rats to tunnel through in search of their favorite meal, tubers. Now, since a single tuber can feed a mole rat colony for months, this month, these little guys are digging as fast and as far as they can.

"The mole rat tunnels are vast. A colony of eighty mole rats which is an average colony size, may have between two and three miles of tunnels under the ground which are all dug in the context of finding these tubers."

And once the mole rats have found a tuber, instead of eating it up right away, they treat it as a sustainable resource.

"When the animals have eaten a good deal of the tuber, they plug it up with earth and then the tuber regenerates and they come back later and eat from it again. So they're subterranean farmers."

Pulse of the Planet is presented by the American Museum of Natural History. I'm Jim Metzner.