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Naked Mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) Fact Sheet: Diet & Feeding

Diet

Diet

  • Underground parts of plants (e.g., Hill et al. 1957; Patterson 2016)
    • Bulbs
    • Roots
    • Tubers
      • Prefer to eat softer inside of tuber
      • Large tubers provide longer-term food source
    • Rhizomes
    • Other plant storage organs
  • Feces
  • Bones (Brett 1991a)
    • Frequency and prevalence of ingestion not known
    • May be ingested for calcium or phosphorus mineral content
    • How naked-mole rats locate bones lying aboveground unknown

Feeding

Finding food/prey

  • Workers find food by digging tunnels; only eat parts of plants that grow underground (Patterson 2016)
    • Eat food where found or in nest chamber
  • Foragers take a sample of new food sources back to nest, while chirping (Judd and Sherman 1996)
    • Other colony members then follow that individual’s scent trail through tunnel system to find food source
      • Similar to behavior of eusocial insects (e.g., honey bees)

Adaptations for feeding

Digestion and scat

  • Enlarged hindgut for food fermentation (Yahav and Buffenstein 1991b)
    • Aids digestion of fibrous plant material, which has low nutritional value (Buffenstein and Yahav 1991b; Buffenstein 1996)
  • Ingest feces (their own or of colony mates) to increase absorption of partially digested food/nutrients (Lacey et al. 1991; O’Riain 1996; Patterson 2016, except as noted)
    • Common behavior in herbivorous rodents
    • Feces fed to queen and young, during weaning
    • Subordinates ingest young’s feces during grooming (Jarvis 1991)
    • Ingestion of queen’s feces induces caregiving behavior in subordinates (Watarai et al. 2018)

Drinking

  • Do not drink water (Jarvis and Sherman 2002; Patterson 2016)
    • Instead, obtain water from plant material in diet (e.g., succulents, tubers)
  • Kidneys moderately effective at conserving water (Urison and Buffenstein 1994)

Tubers, Roots, and Feces

Naked mole-rat feeding on carrot

Naked mole-rats feed on the underground parts of plants.

Like other herbivorous rodents, they also commonly ingest feces—their own or those of colony mates.

Interestingly, ingestion of the queen's feces induces subordinates to increase care of newborn mole-rats.

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

Sharing the Bounty

Naked mole-rat, holding food and chewing

When foragers find a new food source, they take a sample back to other colony members.

Other colony members then follow that individual's scent trail through the tunnel system to find the food source.

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

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