Naked hive rats!
July 17, 2008 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Eusociality - its what bees, ants, and all those other insects that divide into workers, drones, and queens do. But naked mole rats (which are not related to moles or rats) are one of only two mammal species that follow the same pattern, with their cousins Damaraland mole rats as the only other eusocial mammals. They're also nearly cold blooded, impervious to pain, and feed their young on their own feces from the time they're a month old until they can eat the giant tubers that make up most of their diet.
posted by sotonohito (39 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Bugger. Somehow I missed that I forgot to close the tag on "rats". Can a mod please correct my error? Thanks.
posted by sotonohito at 11:11 AM on July 17, 2008


Anyone see that Erroll Morris flick "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control"?
posted by spicynuts at 11:14 AM on July 17, 2008


I wish I could close the open oh my god, eww tag in my brain.
posted by cashman at 11:22 AM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


feed their young on their own feces

Sounds like a recipe for generations of shared parasites.

And gross.

cold blooded, impervious to pain

Yeah.

WTF, nature?
posted by wildblueyonder at 11:25 AM on July 17, 2008


Eusociality - its what bees, ants, and all those other insects that divide into workers, drones, and queens do.

Weird, Eusociality isn't named after Europe -- nor the reverse. Strange, but true!
posted by Plutor at 11:25 AM on July 17, 2008


I think they're cute...
posted by Ms. Saint at 11:26 AM on July 17, 2008


They're also nearly cold blooded, impervious to pain, and feed their young on their own feces from the time they're a month old until they can eat the giant tubers that make up most of their diet.

Don't any of it. Up until around twenty years ago, people believed the exact same thing about the Irish.

As we've since come to learn, they were only about half-right.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:28 AM on July 17, 2008 [11 favorites]


Don't any of it.

Gah!

"Don't believe any of it."
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:28 AM on July 17, 2008


News Flash! Senator McCarthy forms committee to root out Red Eusocialist mole rats working within the United States!
posted by ...possums at 11:32 AM on July 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


Damn, nature! You scary!
posted by infinitywaltz at 11:32 AM on July 17, 2008


Oh man, I'm seriously endeared by these wee fellas.
posted by freya_lamb at 11:33 AM on July 17, 2008


Eusociality - its what bees, ants, and all those other insects that divide into workers, drones, and queens do.

Isn't this also true of grade school girls?
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:34 AM on July 17, 2008


Sounds like a recipe for generations of shared parasites.

You mean like gut bacteria?

Why no pain sensors? Is digging painful? Does this mean ants and such don't have pain sensors either?

Oh the cold-bloodedness is because the temperature doesn't vary much underground. Awesome.
posted by DU at 11:35 AM on July 17, 2008


Oh and this ties in with the thoughts I've been having about ants recently. (There's an unusually ambitious anthill next to where I park my truck at work.) Remember that guy that trained crows (ravens?) to find change? Seems like training ants would be even more useful. Like bionanotechnology. And they are so simple and programmable (via chemtrails) they are practically robots already.

But maybe they don't have enough variety of behavior. Nake mole rats, though....
posted by DU at 11:38 AM on July 17, 2008


Somewhere i heard of a psych study done that had a group of people accomplish a task. The people self-segregated into leaders, followers, and other specialized jobs. Then the researchers removed all the people who had the "leader" role, and started the group over. A new subset of people assumed the job of "leader". The researchers kept doing this over and over until no one was left. From this I conclude that people are situationally eusocial.

Apparently this is the basis for all of political science ("in any group of people, a leader will arise").
posted by sandking at 11:41 AM on July 17, 2008


"situational" is the opposite of "eusocial"
posted by DU at 11:42 AM on July 17, 2008


Sounds like a recipe for generations of shared parasites.

Or for generations of shared symbiotes.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:43 AM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


What they forgot to mention was that naked mole rat eusociality satisfies the Hamiltonian function requirements not with haplodiploidy, but with in-breeding.
posted by jock@law at 11:46 AM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


These guys are the Klingons of the animal world, bad ass.
posted by oddman at 11:49 AM on July 17, 2008


Naked mole rats also have their own rap song and are fond of Nachos, if Kim Possible is to be believed.
posted by teleri025 at 11:49 AM on July 17, 2008


"...recent research by biologist Justin O’Riain of Cape Town University discovered that, within a colony, there may be a few naked mole-rats that are fatter and lazier than the rest and, ironically, seem to have the urge to travel."

Finally, my origins are revealed! Now I just need to get to Africa....
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:51 AM on July 17, 2008


But naked mole rats ... with their cousins Damaraland mole rats as the only other eusocial mammals.

Hasn't this been tried by at least some human culture? Obviously a single human female can't produce offspring enough to sustain the hive, but the idea of one male impregnating all the females and letting his sterilised slaves raise the children must have come to some bad ass dude at least once in human history.
posted by three blind mice at 11:52 AM on July 17, 2008


Or for generations of shared symbiotes.

Part of me wants to really put Rule 34 to the test and do a Google search for "2 Molerats, 1 Symbiote".

The rest of me has considered the potential damage to my already-fragile psyche and opted not to pursue this avenue of research.

Not all knowledge is worth having.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 11:53 AM on July 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


three blind mice wants humans to be like naked mole rats. Parasite Unseen doesn't want to view pictures of bacteria.

STOP THE EPONYSTERICITY!
posted by DU at 11:57 AM on July 17, 2008 [3 favorites]


I made a sculpture of one of these guys once. I bought a box of clay and it turned out to be this ugly flesh colour. The mole rat was the first thing that came to mind when I saw it.
posted by picea at 12:00 PM on July 17, 2008 [4 favorites]


tbl Interesting thought... The sexual reversal is necessary, of course, due to human biology, but yeah that does sound like a possibility for a particularly vicious person. I don't know of anyone who actually tried it though, especially not the sterilizing all males but an heir deal. Though, of course, many human cultures involved powerful men claiming large numbers of women which presumably excluded at least some of the less powerful men from breeding.

sandking Eusociality involves breeding patterns, not just social behaviors. In the case of most eusocial insects its determined by early diet, only queens are fertile. Naked mole rats apparently handle it differently, any of the females in a nest are potentially fertile, but via a less than perfectly understood mechanism only the dominant female is fertile. When she dies the others fight and the victor then becomes fertile.

DU A couple of the linked articles suggest that the no pain thing is due to their low oxygen/high carbon dioxide environment (they've also got super oxygen attractive blood) and the inevitable buildup of acid in muscles as a result of that.
posted by sotonohito at 12:23 PM on July 17, 2008


Communal, cold blooded, feed on giant tubers, impervious to pain?

For a moment I was sure this was going to link to some cold war propaganda about the Soviets.

As to the naked mole rats, they are one of those creatures that are so ugly, they've gone full circle back to being almost cute.
posted by quin at 12:58 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


but the idea of one male impregnating all the females and letting his sterilised slaves raise the children must have come to some bad ass dude at least once in human history.

You've never heard of harems guarded by eunuchs?
posted by jokeefe at 1:32 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Really...rent "Fast, Cheap and Out of Control". The scientist that did a large part of the work on these more rats is one of the people interviewed. Lots of good footage of mole rats.
posted by spicynuts at 1:32 PM on July 17, 2008


three blind mice writes "But naked mole rats ... with their cousins Damaraland mole rats as the only other eusocial mammals.

"Hasn't this been tried by at least some human culture? Obviously a single human female can't produce offspring enough to sustain the hive, but the idea of one male impregnating all the females and letting his sterilised slaves raise the children must have come to some bad ass dude at least once in human history."


You're referring to this, surely? Granted, that was only the royal house, not the entire society.
posted by Araucaria at 2:18 PM on July 17, 2008




but the idea of one male impregnating all the females and letting his sterilised slaves raise the children must have come to some bad ass dude at least once in human history.


I'm pretty sure that's how the Pharaohs rolled--but it's not as effective as true eusociality, because the eunuchs are only driven by their desire to stay alive, or the fear of torture. Since they're not related to the kids they're caring for, they wouldn't be as inclined to protect them with their own life.


Thanks for this post--I love learning about eusocial insects but have never taken the time to learn much about mole-rats.
posted by Citizen Premier at 2:39 PM on July 17, 2008


These sound like perfect gimps.
posted by Esoquo at 2:43 PM on July 17, 2008


A couple of the linked articles suggest that the no pain thing is due to their low oxygen/high carbon dioxide environment...

I saw that about the CO2 but I didn't see it connected to pain sensors. And I don't see why increased acid is inevitable nor why that would lead to reduced pain sensors. But then again, I know next to no biochem.

I made an ant farm last year, but I never documented it on my blog so I can't link to it. Perhaps I'll refresh the ants this year...
posted by DU at 2:50 PM on July 17, 2008


I saw that about the CO2 but I didn't see it connected to pain sensors. And I don't see why increased acid is inevitable nor why that would lead to reduced pain sensors. But then again, I know next to no biochem.

Totally hypothetical: A humid, subterranean environment high in carbon dioxide will probably become acidic. Sensitivity to acid stimuli may be selected against in organisms that live in an acidic environment.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:06 PM on July 17, 2008


feed their young on their own feces

Actually, that part is less unusual than you'd think. They use the same two-pass digestive setup as rabbits, and baby rabbits do this too.
posted by raygirvan at 6:01 PM on July 17, 2008


A humid, subterranean environment high in carbon dioxide will probably become acidic. Sensitivity to acid stimuli may be selected against in organisms that live in an acidic environment.

Hmmm...I guess. Although there's a lot of limestone underground to neutralize that. Maybe not where they live, though.
posted by DU at 6:51 PM on July 17, 2008


somebody knit that mole rat a sweater!
posted by fuzzypantalones at 8:39 PM on July 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Eusociality? Now I finally have another word with A, E, I, O, U, and sometimes Y! Yay!
posted by jonp72 at 6:37 AM on July 18, 2008


naked mole rats (which are not related to moles or rats)

Then what the fuck?? Are they even naked, or can I never trust anything animal-namer-people say?
posted by dirigibleman at 8:25 PM on July 18, 2008


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