A zoo has offered a rare glimpse into the underground life these alien-looking naked mole rats as a ‘queen’ rat breastfeeds her young in a colony kept in a zoo.
Virtually immune to cancer, and living for up to 30 years, this litter of mole rats was born at Bioparc, a zoo in the city of Valencia, capital of the autonomous community of Valencia, located in Eastern Spain, on Friday (18th of September).
They are the only mammals that copy bees and ants in creating colonies with a ‘queen’ being the only one allowed to reproduce and who keeps a small number of sexually active partners. The rest of the colony are divided between “soldiers” and “workers”.
There is an organized division of labour and cooperative care of the young rats all produced by the queen.
Most females are kept sterile by eating the excrement of the queen, which is rich in the sex hormone estradiol, which effects the workers by putting them in a “rearing” mode to act as caregivers for the queen’s children, as reported by BioParc to Newsflash.
In the video, the mother rat breastfeeds pups and moves in her underground habitat, part of a project to recreate the underground life of the Savannah in the zoo.
This “extraterrestrial” rat lives in the subsoil of the arid zones of the so-called “Horn of Africa” (Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti).
The permanent semi-darkness in which it lives has made it evolve a peculiar anatomy, reducing the size of its eyes and visual capacity.
Their legs are very short and allow them to move quickly in tunnels, both forward and backward. The head is disproportionate, with tiny eyes and ears.
They possess large and unique mobile incisor teeth that separate and move independently and are used to excavate the hard earth and create a complex system of tunnels that can measure several miles in length.
This unusual creature can go from homeothermic (“warm” blood like the rest of mammals) to poikilothermic (“cold” blood like reptiles) when there is low oxygen.
Their resistance to the absence of oxygen reaches up to 18 minutes and they can be up to 5 hours with low oxygen levels. This is due to the fact that this rodent changes its metabolism to anaerobic and uses fructose as energy, as plants do, instead of glucose.
They are also known for their extraordinarily longer longevity than other rodents and are practically immune to cancer due to a special gene called p16, which prevents the disorderly growth of cells.