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Naked Mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) Fact Sheet: Summary

Naked Mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) Fact Sheet

Side view of naked mole-rat in acrylic tube

Naked Mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber)

Image credit: © San Diego Zoo Global. All rights reserved.

 

Taxonomy Physical Characteristics

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia — mammals

Order: Rodentia — rodents

Family: Heterocephalidae — naked mole-rat

Genus: Heterocephalus

Species: Heterocephalus glaber — naked mole-rat

 

Body Weight
Typically 30 to 35 g (12 to 14 oz); range: 15 to 70 g (0.53 to 2.4 oz)

(Adults in managed care typically 30 to 50 g (1 to 2 oz); sometimes 80 g (3 oz) or more.)

Head-body Length
70 to 110 mm (3 to 4.3 in)

Tail Length
30 to 50 mm (1 to 2 in)

Coloration
Pink, brownish–pink, or brownish–purple

Distribution & Status Behavior & Ecology

Range
Horn of Africa and adjacent region. Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti. Only subterranean rodent within its distribution.

Habitat
Arid scrub and semi-desert biomes in Horn of Africa. Prefer hard, compact soils.

IUCN Status
Least Concern (2016 assessment)

CITES Appendix
Not listed

Populations in the Wild
Considered common. Population trend: stable.

Locomotion
Very capable diggers; excavate tunnels and nest chambers with front teeth. Can run both forward and backward very quickly.

Activity Cycle
Colony active day and night, but nonbreeding individuals spend substantial time resting.

Social Groups
Live in highly organized groups. Eusocial; majority of individuals work but do not breed. Work duties include gathering food, defending and maintaining the burrow, and caregiving for young.

Diet
Underground parts of plants: bulbs, roots, tubers, and rhizomes. Feces (own or those of colony members).

Predators
Snakes, raptors, owls

Reproduction & Development Species Highlights

Sexual Maturity
As early as 7 to 9 months, when not sociologically suppressed. Minimal development of reproductive structures in nonbreeding individuals.

Gestation
About 70 days (range: 66 to 74 days). Twice as long as other rodents of similar size.

Litter Size
About 11 to 12 young, on average (range: 1 to 28)

Interbirth Interval
76 to 95 days; may be longer in managed care

Weight at Birth
1 to 2 g (0.04 to 0.07 oz)

Age at Weaning
3 to 5 weeks

Longevity
In the wild: nonbreeders—typically 2 to 3 years; breeders—up to 17 years.
In managed care: over 30 years.

Feature Facts

  • One of the only eusocial mammals: extended family members live in a colony with defined social roles and only a few individuals breed
  • In absence of a queen, largest females fight—sometimes to the death—for breeding status
  • Colony members identify one another by unique “colony scent”
  • No body hair; touch-sensitive hairs (whiskers) allow navigation in darkness of burrow
  • Loose, wrinkled skin reduces abrasions and allows easy movement in tight spaces
  • Tunnels dug cooperatively in “chain formation”; front teeth used for excavation
  • Foragers alert colony mates when discover food
  • Ingestion of feces (among workers, queen, and young) plays a key role in adequate nutrition and evoking caregiving behavior
  • Young cared for cooperatively
  • Body temperature strongly influenced by environment, unlike most mammals
  • Low cancer rates
  • Make nearly 20 different types of calls; one of the largest vocal repertoires of any rodent
  • Popular in zoos

About This Fact Sheet

For detailed information, click the tabs at the top of this page.

 

© 2019 San Diego Zoo Global

 

How to cite: Naked Mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) Fact Sheet. c2019. San Diego (CA): San Diego Zoo Global; [accessed YYYY Mmm dd]. http://ielc.libguides.com/sdzg/factsheets/naked-mole-rat.
(note: replace YYYY Mmm dd with date accessed, e.g., 2019 Dec 31)

 

Disclaimer: Although San Diego Zoo Global makes every attempt to provide accurate information, some of the facts provided may become outdated or replaced by new research findings. Questions and comments may be addressed to library@sandiegozoo.org.

Acknowledgments

Many thanks to Prof. Chris G. Faulkes for providing expert content review of this fact sheet.

Chris Faulkes has worked for over 30 years on the evolution of social and reproductive behavior in cooperatively-breeding mammals, with particular emphasis on the naked mole-rat and other African mole-rats. He has published extensively in the scientific literature and co-authored a textbook on African mole-rats.

His research broadly encompasses fields from molecular biology to behavioral ecology. Recent work has utilized comparative genomic approaches to understand adaptations to a subterranean lifestyle and the extraordinary biology of the long-lived naked mole-rat.

Prof. Faulkes began his academic career at the Zoological Society of London and is currently Reader in Evolutionary Ecology at Queen Mary University of London.

Visit Prof. Faulkes's research group website to learn more his long career studying the naked mole-rat.


Thank you to Kym Janke for sharing her knowledge of animal husbandry for the Managed Care section of this fact sheet.

Kym Janke is the Lead Keeper of the San Diego Zoo’s Children’s Zoo (an Animal Connections department). She is responsible for overseeing animal care as well as education-outreach programs. She has worked for San Diego Zoo Global for 13 years and has extensive experience in zoo animal husbandry across a wide variety of taxa.

Early in her career, Kym developed expertise in the husbandry and breeding of cheetahs at Wildlife Safari in Oregon. She also previously worked at the Greater Vancouver Zoo in Canada.

Since 2008, Kym has served on the board of the American Association of Zoo Keepers San Diego. She is also involved in AZA’s Animal Ambassador Scientific Advisory Group (AASAG).

Eusocial Mammal

Naked mole-rats rest in pile in burrow

The naked mole-rat is one of the only eusocial mammals.

Extended family members live underground in a colony and have defined social roles. Similar to honey bees, only a female queen and 1 to 3 males breed.

In this photo, colony workers huddle together during a rest break.

Image credit: © Bob Owen/Flickr. Some rights reserved, CC BY 2.0.

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