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Conservation, News,

Naked Mole Rat Pups Born at the Tulsa Zoo

TULSA, Okla. (March 28, 2018) – Five naked mole rat pups are now on exhibit in the Robert J. LaFortune WildLIFE Trek Life in the Desert building.

The pups were born on March 4, 2018, and are thriving in the naked mole rat group, called a colony. This species is considered eusocial, which is characterized by cooperative brood care, overlapping adult generations and division of labor for the good of the group.

Unique among mammals, the queen is the only female allowed to breed in the colony. Naked mole rat workers clean and care for the pups. The queen will nurse the pups, but other members feed, groom and transport the young.

The colony cares for the young underground, in a tunnel system. To keep the group healthy, the tunnel system has rooms, or chambers, for different functions. There is a nesting chamber for the young, a feeding chamber for storing food and even a toilet chamber.

“Naked mole rats have distinct features that help them survive in their underground homes,” said Josef Lindholm, the zoological curator of birds and WildLIFE Trek mammals. “Living beneath the surface provides protection from the hot dry environments in the Horn of Africa, their native range.”

Naked mole rats are well adapted to their underground existence. With small eyes, they depend on touch, smell and hearing to navigate through the tunnels. The iconic wrinkly pink skin is covered in sensitive hairs. Naked mole rats’ large, protruding front teeth are used to dig. Their lips are sealed just behind the teeth, to prevent soil from filling their mouths.

“We are thrilled zoo visitors will be able to observe a multi-generational colony of this unique species,” said Lindholm. “The pups are much smaller than the 34 adults, among whom they waddle around.”

Naked Mole Rat Facts
• The most famous naked mole rat is the fictional Rufus character from Kim Possible.
• The naked mole rat is the first mammal discovered to exhibit eusociality. Observed in ants, termites and some species of bees and wasps, eusociality is characterized by having a queen for reproduction, and non-reproductive workers.
• For small rodents, naked mole rats live a very long time, with an expected lifespan of over 20 years.
• When a female naked mole rat becomes queen, she goes through physical changes, such as the extension of her vertebrae, which is necessary for her to bear young.