But first, naked mole-rats. They live in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya. They are 3-6 inches long, have pink furless skin, tiny eyes which never see the light of day, and long front teeth for digging. Despite their tiny size, the naked mole-rat family den may stretch for 2 miles entirely underground, with various rooms. In one room, a plant root protrudes to provide a meal; in another is the "potty." When a new hallway is needed, usually for new food supplies, the naked mole-rat siblings form an earth moving chain to pass dirt out a hole which later is covered to block out intruders.
The most unusual room is the largest. It's where Momma naked mole-rat produces more babies as many as 12 at a time every couple of months. Here she is stoked by her numerous mates and tended to by any number of offspring whose lot in life - if not to dig tunnels - is to keep Momma happy.
This behavior is common even accepted and marveled over in insects such as bees, termites and ants. But the naked mole-rat, a mammal, is the most advanced species to live in this arrangement, said Dr. Rodney Honeycutt, Texas A&M Univeristy wildlife professor whose 1992 article in American Scientist explained naked mole-rat life.
Scientists call it "eusocial" in that the young are cared for by the group, individuals in the group give up their ability to reproduce in order to do other jobs, and there are at least two generations that overlap to do the family's work, Honeycutt noted.
Why don't teenaged naked mole-rats revolt and head for their own tunnel? That's where genetics may play a role.
"Biological evolution is generally seen as a competition, a contest among individuals struggling to survive and reproduce," said Honeycutt, who was Ingram's lead professor and began studying mole-rats in the early 1980s while at Harvard
"It runs counter to everything we know about evolution," Honeycutt said. "In fact, (Charl
Contact: Kathleen Phillips
Texas A&M University - Agricultural Communications