Thursday, May 27, 2010

Queen Galinda?

On Friday May 21, naked mole-rat Elphaba gave birth to a litter of 20 pups. These individuals were smaller than usual and did not do well; by Monday we had lost the entire group. Either because the pups were not viable or for more complex reasons, the colony did not give this litter the same care as it has for the last several births.

While this sounds like unfortunate news, it may not be. Naked mole-rat colonies normally have only one reproductive female, making ours the anomaly in having two. Most other exhibitors have predicted violent fighting between females, which perhaps still lies ahead. But maybe not.

If one female is more successful in reproducing, the other can revert to a non-breeding state. The ovaries and uterus of a naked mole-rat that stops breeding would become smaller, as in an immature female. Her behavior would become more like that of a worker and less like that of a queen. Yet should the primary queen be lost, she would be able to resume breeding once again.

At this point, we cannot confirm that one female has emerged as the queen, but we can be on the lookout. If Galinda is validating her status, we will see her engaging in dominant behavior towards Elphaba and possibly preventing her from interacting with breeding males. Some studies show that this, rather than the pheromones she produces, is what prevents other females from getting pregnant.

Interesting times lie ahead.


  1. Hello,
    My grand daughter wanted to see naked mole rats - and we looked through your remarkable site.
    She has a question: Can naked mole rats swim? She is 3.75 years old, and we try to answer her as correctly as possible, since she is a sponge for information.

  2. What a great question. I don't know if anyone has every asked this before - at any rate, I have never read about tests to see if they could swim.

    I can see where she would get the idea. Many people see the clear enclosure the mole-rats are in and think it is some kind of pool. Their movements are also similar to swimming, perhaps because they push their way through loose soil in much the way swimmers push through water.

    In the wild, naked mole-rats don't spend much time near water. They live under ground in deserts, where it is so dry that they do not drink water, but get moisture from their food. The few times I have offered them water they did not seem to like it. They definitly did not seem interested in swimming. In fact they buried the water with wood shavings.

    Naked mole-rats' bones and muscles are heavy and they don't have much body fat. I suspect that they would not float well in water and that swimming would be hard for them. Their heads are especially heavy and might sink! On the other hand they are good at holding their breath. If they fell into water they might sink but still be able to wade out again safely.

    I hope your grand daughter gets some good splashing time this summer! Keep visiting the mole-rats, and we hope to hear from you again.

  3. "Their heads are especially heavy and might sink!"

    That is offcourse a burden for all us inella.. uhm intenteli... uhm SMART people and animals. *cough*.

    Well it certainly would be a test that I could not bring myself to put a cute naked molerat through.

    Yours sincerely

    Jesper K. Boesen

    PS: Allways so nice to hear about children being so curious about sciences and animals. :)