Thursday, January 30, 2014

The 12th Naked Mole Rats

Do mole rats choose sides in sporting events?

We don’t know, and we aren’t here to speculate. What we do know is that lead Animal Caretaker Lauren Bloomenthal is a Seattle Seahawks fan. This week she wanted to do something special for our animals to celebrate her favorite team’s journey to the Super Bowl. She requested a blue and green color scheme for the mole rats' habitat.

While shopping, Life Sciences manager Sarah Moore stumbled upon some bags of colorful bedding and a toy loofah football. Perfect for the naked mole rats!

When we add fun touches like team colors or holiday features, we always want to ask ourselves: What's our message? We can show our enthusiasm for a favorite team but we also want our additions to meet the criteria of enriching the animals’ lives or helping us better understand them.

Having chambers with two colors of bedding helped us visualize how quickly the colony moves its bedding from one place to another. As it turns out, they do that pretty quickly. The bedding serves as a substitute for the soil they would excavate in the wild, as well as being used to soften the floor in their sleeping chamber and absorb waste in their latrines. But moving bedding is also exercise and stimulation for the animals.

When Lauren filled the chambers at 9:00 am, each chamber held distinctive patterns of blue bedding or green bedding. By noon, many of the chambers held mixed bedding. By days end, there were bits of green and blue in every chamber including the latrines, which hold our normal buff bedding in the morning.

Staff discussed and rejected some other forms of Seahawk themed enrichment. Sea urchins are well known for holding onto stray bits of shell and seaweed. We could easily coax them into sporting shells painted with the iconic number 12. However, if there is even a little chance of harming the water quality, this cute idea is not worth it.

Enrichment has to meet a need for our animals, or we don’t do it. But if it is safe and we can give ourselves a little enrichment fun at the same time - why not?

Next: Do butterflies have team favorites? Stay tuned to see if the butterflies’ fruit trays turn into football fields!

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