NAKED MOLE RATS: Working Together

Right now, if you were to place a microphone underground in a field in northeastern Africa, you might well hear sounds like these, as colonies of Naked Mole Rats gather food together in their maze of underground tunnels. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Naked Mole Rats are gerbil-sized mammals that behave a lot like ants or bees. They have a queen, who’s the only breeding female in the colony, a few breeding males, and a large army of worker mole rats. When the rains come, and the hard soil that they live in softens up, the workers have to band together and tunnel for their main meal — tubers.

“If a single individual tried to dig to that new tuber it wouldn’t be able to dig that much soil to get to the next tuber before it ran out of energy and food. They work together with a digger, a kicker and individuals in between moving the soil.”

Paul Sherman is a Professor at Cornell University and co-author of two children’s books on Naked Mole Rats. He tells us that getting food is only one advantage to the colonial lifestyle of this unique animal.

“There is a whole genus of snakes called mole snakes which specialize on Naked Mole Rats. These snakes are so sensitive to the smell of turned earth that if one is in this part of Kenya and is digging, the snakes appear. They smell the turned earth because the turned earth is what indicates that there is a mole rat colony that has just opened a mound to eject dirt. The snakes come and rush into the open mouth of the mound and try to eat as many mole rats as possible while the mole rats attack them and try to fend them off. With some actually attacking and others kicking dirt into the tunnel to try to entomb the snake to keep it away from the female and her offspring.”

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

NAKED MOLE RATS: Working Together

This month, the bizarre Naked Mole Rats of northeast Africa are banding together to tunnel for tubers.
Air Date:01/27/1998
Scientist:
Transcript:

Right now, if you were to place a microphone underground in a field in northeastern Africa, you might well hear sounds like these, as colonies of Naked Mole Rats gather food together in their maze of underground tunnels. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Naked Mole Rats are gerbil-sized mammals that behave a lot like ants or bees. They have a queen, who's the only breeding female in the colony, a few breeding males, and a large army of worker mole rats. When the rains come, and the hard soil that they live in softens up, the workers have to band together and tunnel for their main meal -- tubers.

"If a single individual tried to dig to that new tuber it wouldn't be able to dig that much soil to get to the next tuber before it ran out of energy and food. They work together with a digger, a kicker and individuals in between moving the soil."

Paul Sherman is a Professor at Cornell University and co-author of two children's books on Naked Mole Rats. He tells us that getting food is only one advantage to the colonial lifestyle of this unique animal.

"There is a whole genus of snakes called mole snakes which specialize on Naked Mole Rats. These snakes are so sensitive to the smell of turned earth that if one is in this part of Kenya and is digging, the snakes appear. They smell the turned earth because the turned earth is what indicates that there is a mole rat colony that has just opened a mound to eject dirt. The snakes come and rush into the open mouth of the mound and try to eat as many mole rats as possible while the mole rats attack them and try to fend them off. With some actually attacking and others kicking dirt into the tunnel to try to entomb the snake to keep it away from the female and her offspring."

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