Saturday, October 3, 2009
Our last update of Pacific Science Center’s naked mole-rat colony announced that we had a new litter of pups born on August 26 and Life Sciences staff were observing a second pregnant mole-rat. As naked mole-rat colonies usually have just one reproducing female, we wonder, “What’s going on here?”
First a little history: Naked mole-rats are eusocial animals with one reproducing queen per colony. Our previous mole rat queen died giving birth October 22, 2007. With no mother to nurse them, her offspring did not survive. Soon after, the entire colony faced serious health problems until rigorous husbandry protocols were enacted.
It was not until August 2008 that another female became pregnant. Appearing bloated, she was nick-named “The Gassy Rat” before we realized that this female was, indeed, pregnant. Now named Galinda, her pups never appeared; perhaps she miscarried or reabsorbed into her system.
Next on January 19, 2009 Galinda gave birth to a small litter that did not survive. Shortly after, another pregnant mole-rat was detected, Elphaba who gave birth to her own litter of pups. From then on, we continually monitored the two females, which were staggered so that both did not give birth at the same time. No pups from either queen-in-waiting survived until August 6 when Elphaba successfully produced a litter of seven three of which are still alive today. We had to wonder what would happen next. Would Galinda return to being a regular mole-rat worker or would she compete for the colony’s crown? Meanwhile, Galinda was often observed being very attentive to Elphaba’s pups while she was obviously carrying yet another litter.
On September 20, Galinda gave birth to a brood of seventeen. Of these, seven have survived the critical ten-day milestone. So now what happens? Will we observe the colony splitting into two factions? Can two queens co-exist in one colony? Come visit Elphaba, Galinda and our entire naked mole-rat exhibit at Pacific Science Center . And continue to check back on this blog for updates on our colony’s activities.
Thanks to Lead Animal Caretaker Brianna Todd for her meticulous recordkeeping that provided the background of this story.