Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Elphaba's Litter

In our last Naked mole-rat article, we announced that one of our two breeding female mole-rats was days away from delivering a litter to the colony. Life Sciences and other Pacific Science Center staff as well as many of our readers have been waiting anxiously as the pregnant female grew.

On Friday, November 13, “Elphaba” gave birth to ten pups. By Saturday morning, it was clear that all was not well with them. Four were found dead that morning, another one Sunday and the remaining five died on the night of November 16. We have lost pups before, but this does not fit a familiar pattern. It is not uncommon for one or two poorly developed animals to be lost the first day. But when larger numbers have failed, they have appeared to thrive until sometime between days 5 and 10. This rapid, early loss is unexpected and we are working with our vet to seek some necropsy information to help explain the phenomenon.

This occurrence is of particular concern because the colony as a whole has shown so many signs of improving health. Above all, we want to rule out any conditions that reflect a threat to the remaining animals.

While we were focusing on Elphaba and her pregnancy, we also noticed that Galinda appears to be pregnant again! We must also keep in mind that nearly all mole-rat colonies only have one queen. Our situation is highly unusual. There is reason to believe that a colony with two queens is untenable in the long-term. We will be watching Galinda’s litter anxiously when it is born. If her pups thrive, it may be a clue as to the status of the two rival queens. If the pups do poorly, we will go back to looking for underlying health problems. Stay tuned!


  1. when we were in on halloween it seemed that there was pups in the colony then as well. we noticed one adult had a pup away from the others and it looked like it was trying to get it to nurse (or either it was trying to eat it). i wonder if the PSC has cameras on the naked mole rats that might help solve the mystery. also- we would LOVE to be able to go on-line and watch them. maybe a local video store could donate some equipment??

  2. I like that idea a lot. I have spoken with our IT department in the past about it, but I think now would be a good time to re-examine it. There have been times when the colony was on the move and hung out somewhere different every day. But recently the animals are acting more predictably and it should be possible to point a camera somewhere with a pretty good chance of knowing the animals will be there.