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10 Things You Didn’t Know About Naked Mole-rats

  • a naked mole-rat sits behind green leafy vegetables

If you think a blind, nearly hairless rodent that lives underground can’t get much stranger, then buckle up. There’s a lot more to these weird (and wonderful) rodents than meets the eye!

1. Their teeth can operate independently.

A naked mole-rat can move each of its front teeth separately, like a pair of chopsticks.

2. Naked mole-rats don't drink water.

That’s right. They get all the hydration they need from their plant-based diet! Mole-rats eat the underground parts of plants. They typically only consume part of a root or tuber, leaving enough behind for it to survive and provide another meal.

3. At birth, a mole-rat pup weighs less than a penny!

Naked mole-rats are one of the only true eusocial mammals, meaning they live in large colonies with just one breeding female, called the queen. The queen is the only mole-rat to produce offspring, and a single litter averages 12 to 28 pups.

4. A quarter of a mole-rat’s muscle mass is in its jaws.

Naked mole-rats use their powerful jaws and very large incisors to dig through hard-packed soil.

NMR GIF jaws

Bonus: Their lips close behind their front teeth, which keeps dirt out of their mouths when digging!

5. Colonies have soldiers at their disposal.

If a predator tries to enter a tunnel, “soldier” mole-rats pile up to block the entrance and protect the colony. Snakes are their greatest predators, and they will fight before letting one enter the burrow and eat the queen.

6. They can live into their 30s.

This makes naked mole-rats an anomaly among small rodents, which typically live for just a few years.

7. Mole-rats have 17 different vocalizations.

They communicate with each other using chirps, hisses and other sounds. Because mole-rats are virtually blind, their sense of smell is also very important.

8. A single colony’s tunnels can be 2.5 miles long!

NMR GIF runnels

Large colonies produce complex underground systems of tunnels that connect chambers within the burrow. Mole-rats use these chambers for different activities, such as nesting and eating. They even designate a toilet room!

9. Naked mole-rats eat their poop!

Naked mole-rats practice coprophagy, the reingestion of feces, which helps them maximize their nutrient uptake.

10. They sleep belly-up.

No, they’re not playing dead. Napping mole-rats often sleep on their backs, upside down.

NMR GIF runnels

Unlike most other mammals, they have trouble maintaining a steady body temperature and will huddle together to share warmth — even though their burrow temperature averages around 86 degrees Fahrenheit!

Don't miss the debut of the Smithsonian's National Zoo's new Naked Mole-rat Cam on Friday, Aug. 31! The Zoo's naked mole-rat exhibit opens to the public on Saturday, Sept. 1.