Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Touching Naked Mole Rat

Here at the Pacific Science Center, we are always looking for ways to improve our guests’ experience, whether it’s through activities, interactive exhibits, or providing accessibility to all of our guests. We love exhibits where people can not only see, but also touch and explore with as well. However, with the exception of our Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches, that is not really possible with most of the animal exhibits. In fact, we specifically say that they are not allowed to touch the butterflies. So we are thrilled to announce a new addition to our department that you can touch. Welcome our brand new bronze naked mole rat!



Knowing how popular the naked mole rats are with our visitors, and how iconic their shapes are, Lead Animal Caretaker Lauren Bloomenthal wanted to render them accessible to everyone who visits. Who wouldn’t want to touch this cute statue? But even closer to Pacific Science Center’s mission was our goal of reaching diverse audiences by becoming more inclusive toward those who are visually impaired. For those guests who can’t see the mole rats, this becomes a way to experience them. For those who look but need more sensory data to really understand, the sculpture is an additional learning tool.

The idea quickly spread from the Animal Care department to the Exhibits team, where Exhibit Operations Coordinator Ashley Hollender helped bring the project to life. She invited Georgia Gerber, the artist who crafted our caterpillar as well as the turtles that live outside in our ponds, to work with us once again. As the project was moving along between Georgia, the Animal Care team, and the Exhibits team, we decided to enlist Stacy Thurston, a longtime volunteer who is blind. Stacy gave us invaluable feedback on the braille plaque which will accompany the bronze, as well as the location and features of the bronze piece.

Georgia came by the science center to get some up close, hands on time with our mole rats, as well as take numerous reference pictures. When she had sculpted the main design, she sent images back to our Animal Care folks for feedback. We loved it, but kept asking her to make the bottom teeth bigger. And bigger. And bigger. If there’s one thing we learned in this process, it’s that it’s all about the teeth.

The bronze mole rat is roughly two times the actual size of our naked mole rats. Even with the scale in mind, he has a large build compared to the average naked mole rat. If you study him, you’ll notice that he is carrying lots of his weight in his neck and chest. This means he is likely a disperser morph, like Hairless Houdini.

This project fell outside the normal scope of either Lauren’s or Ashley’s daily job. It entailed extra work and learning new processes. But they both really wanted to do it and luckily, our VP of Exhibits and Life Sciences, Diana Johns, believes in giving employees the opportunity to tackle this kind of project with the support they need to succeed. We couldn’t have done it without her.

While this is a rendition of a naked mole rat and its features is not an exact replication, Georgia’s artistic touch is what really brings our little bronze friend to life. Our bronze mole rat is cast from a limited edition mold. Ours is #1 in a series of 15. You, too, may have a bronze naked mole rat of your own.

Naming Contest

But wait! The bronze naked mole rat project is not yet complete. He is only missing one thing – a name! Here’s where we need YOUR help. If you’d like a chance to name our newest bronze addition, comment below with your suggestions. We’ll pick a winner next Thursday, October 17th.

And don’t forget to come by the Pacific Science Center and help us welcome our brand new bronze naked mole rat!

Addendum: October 15th


A braille interpretive plaque is now installed for our visually impaired guests.

10 comments:

  1. This sounds like a great addition to PSC! But now we need to know what happened to Hairless Houdini after the original blog post?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'd like to hear more about all of the naked mole rats in general, it'd be nice if you'd update us on individuals in the colony and tell us their names and stuff! Do they all have names? I'd like to know about hairless houdini too, and toothless wonder! It's been a while since there was a post about them!

    I'm located in Britain so unfortunately there's no way for me to come see your naked mole rats, but I often watch the naked mole rat cam and it'd be cool to know a bit more about the rats I've been watching (or even to be able to identify individuals by their tattoos!). Thank you for putting their food directly under the camera last night by the way, it was really adorable watching them!

    ReplyDelete
  3. It sounds like our readers want to know more about the many characters in the colony. We will do our best to get those stories out to you, though the mole rats are competing with the reptiles, sea life and insects for our blog space. Keep telling us what you find most interesting so we can bring you those stories.

    Rapps, there are some with names and some without. We can start introducing more of them, and when we run out of named individuals we might reach out for help with the rest of them.

    Regarding the tatoos - how clearly can you see them? Is the view good enough that if you knew who had what markings you could make them out on individual animals?

    Sarah

    ReplyDelete
  4. The camera is surprisingly clear actually! It's hard to see at times, but I've been able to identify some males and females from their tattoos so far (males marked on the left side limbs, females on the right, right?), some of the ink on the tattoos looks like it's wandered a bit though. I thought I had maybe seen one of the queens until I learned about the gender markings and realized it was just a massive male (I swear he was about twice the size of the other ones, maybe it was your disperser morph)! I think people would be able to tell some of them apart by their tattoos!

    Is it still easy for your team to tell them apart? It looks like some of the back tattoos might have ran into each other a little bit on some of the rats, and sometimes it's hard to see any back tattoos at all on the individuals with grey skin, that may just be the quality of the camera though.

    I'm surprised your team haven't named all of them, I would have thought those handling them every day wouldn't be able to help themselves, but I guess when you have a colony this large it's hard to come up with a name for all of them!

    Thanks for your reply Sarah, I'm sure all the naked mole rat fans would really appreciate it if you guys took the time to share those stories with us! I know I would! Especially if those stories come with adorable photos too ;p

    ReplyDelete
  5. Hi Anne, Hairless Houdini has slimmed down since his first adventure in 2010, living in relative mole rat obscurity. Animal Care staff has gone to considerable lengths to secure the NMR compound (http://pacscilife.blogspot.com/2011/11/lesson-learned.html). With continual enrichment (http://pacscilife.blogspot.com/2013/03/naked-mole-rat-enrichment.html), we hope we've suppressed his need to "disperse." -Terry

    ReplyDelete
  6. My 5th/6th grade class and I like Sandy for the name. Since the naked mole rat can be referred to as a sand puppy. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Rufus (the name of the Naked Mole Rat from Kim Possible). :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. "Rizzo," Ratso Rizzo, as in the classic film, "Midnight Cowboy."
    He was a rat-like character who stole the show.

    ReplyDelete
  9. If anyone is curious what the braille says that accompanies the bronze mole rat, the full text is below:

    Naked Mole Rat
    Heterocephalus glaber

    Georgia Gerber
    Bronze, 2013
    2x actual size

    Native to Eastern Africa, these hairless rodents live underground where they use their large teeth to burrow and feed on tubers. Can you hear them as they gnaw on the plastic tubes of their enclosure?

    ReplyDelete