Friday, 23 October 2015

What you didn't know about naked mole-rats

Date:October 22, 2015
Source:University of Virginia

The naked mole-rat is a particularly ugly or cute animal, depending on your definition. It is tubular in shape, like the tunnels it creates, hairless and wrinkled, for wiggling through those tunnels, and has long, chisel-like front teeth. It looks somewhat like a walrus in miniature. And these rodents can chew through concrete!

Do a Google search of the naked mole-rat, or read through a number of biology textbooks, and you will find numerous references to this African mammal as being "inbred" and "eusocial," meaning -- similar to some insects -- it has a fertile "queen" at the head of the colony, helpers who tend to her and may mate with her, and female "workers" who are sterile, expending their energy building tunnels and finding food.

This social system is rare among animals, and almost unheard-of among mammals, so evolutionary biologists have long taken particular interest in the unusual eusocial mating system of the naked mole-rat and its essentially homogeneous genetics. Why would this rodent have evolved to socialize and mate so differently from other mammals? From a natural selection standpoint -- where advantageous traits are passed down to succeeding generations -- what is gained by limiting genetic diversity by limiting the breeding pool?

Evolutionary biologists have puzzled over and debated this for decades. For this reason, the naked mole-rat has been an interesting oddball study model.

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