Hey everybody, welcome to the first-ever Weird Biology two-part special! This week we are going to be examining an animal so UNBELIEVABLY WEIRD that it’s going to take two entire posts just to cover the basic facts! So get ready to put your hands in the air and flail in horror as I introduce you to that Supreme Sultan of Strange, that Tyrant of Existential Terror, the Once and Future King of Monsters: The one! The only!
FLAIL EVERYBODY, FLAIL.
The Naked Mole Rat is a buck-naked rodent related to neither rats nor moles. They may be royalty, but just from looking it’s difficult to tell if they’re even a mammal or not. (Yes, but just barely.) The Naked Mole Rat reigns in the Horn of Africa and is most closely related to Porcupines and Guinea Pigs. (Both of whom will deny this if you ask them.) Despite its lofty position in the pantheon of weird, it spends its entire life underground in lairs so hellish that they would give Hieronymus Bosch nightmares. (Speaking of nightmares, I had a dream where one of them threatened to peel me once. Make of that what you will.)
The Naked Mole Rat lives in a complex of completely dark tunnels, where the oxygen content is so low that it would kill most mammals within minutes. (Including you.) The tunnels are only wide enough that one Naked Mole Rat can squeeze through at a time, as they don’t seem to consider personal comfort a virtue. Gee, I wonder why. Since the Naked Mole Rat lives in such inhospitable territory, they have developed a number of terrible, terrible, terrible adaptations to cope. If there ever was an animal that had evolved to survive Hell, this would be it. These adaptations are what give them their true and rightful status as Weirdest of Weird and Strangest of Strange. ALL HAIL, KING OF MONSTERS.
Naked Mole Rats grow to be only about 4 inches long and weigh about 1.2 oz. (Which is still too much Naked Mole Rat, let’s be honest.) This small size lets them wiggle around in claustrophobic close quarters with ease, where mere peons like rats and mice would struggle. The Naked Mole Rat’s loose disgusting prune skin also helps them to squeeze through traffic jams in the tunnels. (Because royalty does not observe right-of-way.) It also helps that they literally cannot feel pain in their skin. I wish I was making this up.
HAIL TO THE KING. HIS SKIN IS LOOSE AND HE HAS NO CAPACITY FOR FEAR OR PAIN.
Technically Naked Mole Rats can see just fine, but they prefer to sprint around in the dark with their eyes shut because vision is for lesser creatures. (Fun fact, they can sprint backwards as quickly as they can move forwards! Wow! Isn’t that a fun fact that you’ll never be able to forget no matter how hard you try!) Naked Mole Rats use their teeth to dig new tunnels. (Since the only remaining major ruling adaptation they lack is hands. Be grateful.) Like the rest of the Naked Mole Rat, this is way more messed up then it sounds because those teeth are actually on the outside of their mouth. Like tusks. As horrible as this fact is, it kind of makes sense because otherwise they would just be swallowing dirt all day. Not even the Naked Mole Rat wants to be swallowing dirt all day
Naked Mole Rats are herbivores, feasting on tubers and the occasional researcher they find while digging. (Perhaps all royalty should follow this method.) They don’t eat very often, because their energy requirements are stupidly low. This is because the Naked Mole Rat stands alone above the rest of mammalkind as having a singularly special adaptation *DRUMROLL PLEASE*:
They’re cold blooded.
(Like all royalty. *B-DUM TSSH*)
That’s right, the Naked Mole Rat may have more in common with reptiles than with other mammals. They don’t keep a stable body temperature, a trick that lets them have a far slower metabolism than they should. This extremely slow metabolism lets them go long periods without eating and helps them survive low-oxygen environments. It also gives the Naked Mole Rat the longest lifespan of any rodent. Which is… *paper rustling* Huh.
30. ENTIRE. YEARS.
The next time you see one of these, think about how it might be old enough to have college debt. Oh, and in addition to that freakishly long lifespan, they’re invulnerable to cancer and we don’t know why. I guess it figures. Must be good to be King.
1. Tim Evanson, Flickr
2. Benny Mazur, Wikimedia Commons