Skip to comments.After Bloodbath, The National Zoo Naked Mole-Rats Finally Choose Their Queen
Posted on 12/18/2018 8:34:29 AM PST by Gamecock
At last, weve reached the conclusion of this scintillating drama: the National Zoos naked mole-rat colony has chosen its queen.
In case youve been living under a rock, let us catch you up: the Small Mammal House at the Smithsonian National Zoo is home to a colony of naked mole-rats, and for the last several months theyve been engaged in a quietbut brutalbattle for political supremacy. Naked mole-rats are one of just two eusocial mammalian species, which means they live much like colonies of bees or ants: one queen reigns supreme over everybody else, and challengers must fight and kill her for their own shot at rulership. Only the queen is allowed to reproduce, and her subjects are assigned roles as she sees fit (perhaps the only mole-rats with a better deal are the few lucky males she chooses as mating partners).
Back in October, keepers at the National Zoo told DCist they were pretty sure who the queen of this brood would be. One mole-rat was much larger than all the rest, and she was pushing and shoving her way to dominance without much obvious opposition from the others. But a human cant know the heart of a mole-rat, and spokesperson Devin Murphy assured us that there could be a challenger at any time. We wont know for sure until [one of the mole-rats] has babies. Thats the only way to tell, she said.
Well, the big day has finally arrived: just after 9 a.m. on Monday, zookeepers checking on the mole-rat colony discovered two tiny, pink, wrinkly nubbins nestled in one of the mole-rat chambers with some adults. Her majesty gave birth to two babies during the night. She has officially been crowned. (Take a gander at the lil guys on the zoos naked mole-rat cam).
It was the mole-rat we expected, says Kenton Kearns, zookeeper at the National Zoo and mole-rat expert. Over the last several weeks, Kearns says, the queens nipples had grown significantly, increasing suspicions that she was the Chosen One. There was also some movement under the skin in the back end of her body, which looked like it could maybe be babies, Kearns says. Babies, indeed.
Her queenliness has had two babies so far, but naked mole-rats can keep giving birth for up to 24 hours, so it remains to be seen if there are any other pups to come. (Update: As of Tuesday morning, shed had one more pup, making for a total of 3). Naked mole-rats can have up to 30 pups in one litter, but numbers like that are reserved for more experienced moms. Each time a naked mole-rat queen gets pregnant and gives birth, her spinal column stretches a little and makes her slightly longer, so she can fit more babies in there next time.
A first time mom will probably only give birth to between one and 10 pups, Kearns says. My personal feeling is that shes done for the day, but naked mole-rats are so weird you just never know, he says.
And anyway, shell probably be pregnant again in a few days. Thats kind of the point of being the queen, Kearns says.
Fair enough. The queen is the only mole-rat that reproduces, so shes got a big job on her hands. But she likes it this way. Queens sexually repress all the other females in the colony, as well as the males they dont want to mate with, preventing them from going through puberty (even experts arent quite sure how queens do this).
Naked mole-rats have a 70-day gestation period, so in another couple of months the queen will solidify her position with yet more births.
But just getting to the first set of births wasnt easy, Kearns says. In fact, it was kind of a bloodbath: the new colony transported to the National Zoo this summer was made up of 17 adult mole-rats. There are only 13 adults left. Yeah, theyve been fighting and killing each other, Kearns says. They have mole-rat wars to determine whos going to be the queen or whos going to breed with the queen. Were hoping things will calm down a little bit now.
The last casualty of the naked-mole rat wars was discovered dead in the chambers on Monday morning, just before the babies were seen, Kearns says. Its up to us to imagine what incredibly high-stakes drama might have led to that death.
Kearns says that our their queen seems to have settled into new motherhood pretty well so far. She has napped much of the day on Monday, but she makes sure to lay nipples-up so her pups can nurse. Other members of the colony have also been observed picking up the babies and grooming them (fun fact: naked mole-rats eat each others poop, and the queens droppings in particular have hormones in them that propel her subjects to care for her young).
Keepers think things should calm down considerably now. Challengers to the queen can always arise, but in addition to having already given birth, the National Zoos queen is so much bigger than the others that a challenger has to be more or less delusional to try to engage her in physical combat. When they were last weighed over the weekend, the queen was at 81 grams. The other mole-rats are between 32 and 55 grams.
But in the brutal political world of the mole-rat, the hierarchy is never really secure.
For today, we havent seen anything like that, any aggression, Kearns says. But when youre a naked mole-rat queen, youre always defending your position.
For some reason I keep having images of Hillary bounce around in my head.
Sounds like how the Democrats chose their Speaker.
Kind of like the current Democrat party.
I was thinking Mooochele
That’s one homely critter. Looks like that thing has been living under a rock IMO.
Sounds like Marxist RATs Piglosi, Hitlery, Madd Maxine, ChiFi, Knee Pad Harris, et al. going at it, ya think? What a visual that makes!!
I believe naked mole rats have a distinction in the animal world. They are one of the very longest living animals.
If you think living in the dark underground and fighting for your life is the way to go...
Well, the Republicans already did, DJT layed waste to the rest of the field.
Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the Candlestick!
Mole rat expert
Ill bet most companies have software that scan resumes for that phrase.
Call down to Human Resources and tell them we need another mole rat expert.
> Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory with the Candlestick! <
Funny you should mention that. Because a couple of years ago, I wrote Hasbro a letter and suggested a new character named “Hillary”, and a new location, a park.
Hillary in the Park with the Revolver!
I never did hear back from them. Maybe my letter got lost in the mail.
Just a few days ago, I learned that wombats poop cubes. Now this ...
AND THE WINNAH IS.......................................HILLIARY BY A LANDSLIDE!................
Sounds like Princess Pelosi and her quest for power.
I freely admit to having some weird interests, but I've never wanted a job where I had to peek at the nipples of a naked mole-rat queen.
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