I was just talking about these amazing animals the other day after a yoga class, as you do. So here's the article I wrote for the excellent online kids' magazine: JUMP! Mag a couple of years ago that explains a little more about quite how extraordinary they are...
Drum roll please for the marvellous, magnificent and quite possibly, miraculous triumph of evolution that is:
THE NAKED MOLE RAT
|"Never judge a book by its cover"|
The ones I love the best.
The slimy, ugly and the odd
Are cooler than the rest…
That really is quite weird.
No-fur, pink skin & almost blind;
It looks like it’s been sheared.
1. They can run backwards just as fast as they run forwards – extremely useful for digging underground tunnels and shifting large quantities of soil.
2. Their ‘loose’ skin enables them to squeeze through even the tiniest of spaces in their digging expeditions.
3. They use their extraordinary teeth independently like chopsticks, as well as their paws, to dig through vast quantities of earth to construct their tunnels; a colossal 3-4 tons of earth in the few weeks after rain has been recorded!
4. They live in *eusocial colonies of between 20 – 300 (the most common being around 80) behaving more like ants, termites or bees in their working and reproductive habits.
These curious creatures have become perfectly adapted to their harsh environment underneath the dry grasslands of East Africa. And these adaptations are key to their extraordinary super-powers.
A funny little animal,
This sausage sabre-tooth
Could also hold the secret to
Our own eternal youth…
ETERNAL YOUTH & other super-powers:
5. NMRs are impervious to pain due to the lack of something called *Substance P, an important element in pain perception. But why is this useful? Basically, with the lower levels of oxygen and higher amounts of carbon dioxide underground, having no Substance P prevents a build-up of toxins in the body. In other words, the NMR doesn’t need to feel physical pain via its skin but does need protection from dangerous CO2 levels.
6. They have a much lower *metabolic and *respiratory rate than other small rodents such a mice, which means they adapt extremely well to the low oxygen levels underground. Because they are able to adjust their metabolisms according to how much oxygen is available - slowing down in difficult times and speeding up when there’s more oxygen - some scientists have described them as “living their lives in pulses” contributing to the fact that…
7. NMRs live about 10 times as long as their furry rodent counterparts. This ability to regulate their metabolisms also reduces damage from “oxidative stress”; this is the build-up of toxins in the body that is a by-product of anxiety, which in turn is connected to why.
8. NMRs lose no or very little muscle definition in old age. That’s to say, they defy all visible signs of ageing (even without a fabulous face cream, hey, hang on…)
9. And strangest of all, despite their longevity, they are the only mammals that do not seem to develop cancer. All the above points must surely contribute to this extraordinary fact, plus the following…
(Almost) B-R-E-A-K-I-N-G N-E-W-S…
10. The latest research (June 19th 2013) found that NMRs have extremely high levels (5 times as high as humans & mice) of *Hyaluronan or the “goo molecule”, a natural sugary substance that is essential for skin/cell hydration and repair. This might also suggest that if NMRs are injured - without feeling it, of course - the higher amount of Hyaluronan present would actually help to heal the wound faster. And guess what, this substance is used in face creams, too, so point 8 wasn’t so much of a joke after all… (NB the Hyaluronan is NOT extracted from the skin of NMRs to make face cream, but artificially produced)
Crucially, in Naked Mole Rats the high levels of Hyaluronan appear to suppress cancer. So, let’s join the dots and suggest that almost as a consequence of needing extra-elastic skin perfectly adapted for underground tunneling, these Amazing Animals have gone and got themselves chilled-out, cancer-resistant extra-long lives!
Gestation – development inside the womb from fertilisation to birth
Go to JUMP! Mag to read the whole article and a whole lot of awesome other stuff besides...