Naked Mole-rats: The Super Heroes of the Animal World

What can feel no pain, is impervious to cancer or Alzheimer’s, and can chew through pretty much anything in a single bound? The naked mole-rat! These little creatures aren’t the prettiest to look at, but they are possibly some of the most fascinating—and superhero like—animals around.

Meet the naked mole-rat!
Meet the naked mole-rat – our super hero!

When a naked mole-rat begins life, he pretty much looks the exact same as he does when he’s an old man – wrinkly, pink, and well…naked. Just tinier. You’ll notice whiskers around his mouth that act as sweepers to push away dirt, as well as teeth that are meant for digging.

You could say naked mole-rats have two mouths, in fact – one for digging, and one for tearing up food, which mainly consists of fruits, veggies, and roots. This is convenient, because the live in massive underground networks, so roots make a lot of sense as food. They are able to close their “second” mouth, the eating one, when digging their tunnels.

Mmm, snacks! Naked mole-rats love fruits, veggies, and roots.
Mmm, snacks! Naked mole-rats love to eat fruits, veggies, and roots.

It’s hard to compare a naked mole-rat to much else in the animal kingdom, but their social structure definitely works like a beehive. Everyone has a role in the colony and it is highly organized. There is a queen of the colony, and if that queen dies, everything falls apart and the other females engage in a fight to the death until a new queen is chosen. That new queen will morph into a baby producing machine, too – her hormones cause physical changes that make her spine actually arch upward so she can hold more babies!

Because they live so far underground, naked mole-rats can survive with little to no oxygen. It’s a good thing they can tunnel well, because their main predators are ground-dwelling snakes. These animals aren’t endangered, but they can be a nuisance to farmers trying to grow crops. Or, if you take it the other way, the farmers provide much excitement for the mole-rats, giving them a steady and consistent banquet!

At the Zoo, we create tunnels for the mole-rats so they can feel right at home!
At the Zoo, we create tunnels for the mole-rats so they can feel right at home!

So if you live underground and it’s pitch black (and your eyesight isn’t that great anyways), how do you tell your friends from your enemies? Smell, of course – and not the best smell either. Naked mole-rats build latrines where they all go to the bathroom, and then they roll around in the latrine so they smell like well…let’s just say the rest of the colony.

At the Zoo, we’ve got 48 naked mole-rats in our Carruth Natural Encounters building, along with other species of mole-rat like Damara mole-rats, another species that is much bigger and much less naked. You can’t miss them when you visit, because there’s a gigantic mole-rat sculpture above their burrows!

The Damara mole-rat: not quite so naked
The Damara mole-rat: not quite so naked

Have mole-rat mania and can’t wait to learn more? Visit us in our Natural Encounters building and ask us about them – you haven’t even heard the half of the crazy facts about these guys.

Thanks to Casey Norra, Zookeeper in Natural Encounters, for sharing his passion about mole-rats and giving us this fantastic animal information!

Search Blog & Website
Subscribe to Houston Zoo News
Get the latest stories and updates from the Zoo in your inbox! Find out how: Houston Zoo News
Houston Zoo Facebook Page