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Bart the Naked Mole Rat

Inspired by a true story.

Bart awoke engulfed in a pile of his slumbering friends and family. While he enjoyed the warmth permeating off his siblings, it was time to wake up! He wriggled free and gave a big mole-rat stretch, took a few steps, and let out a yawn. Today was going to be a big day. Smooth pink skin covered Bart’s body, and he sported a large head filled with two sets of protruding teeth and strong muscles for digging. Bart and all of the other naked mole rats were perfectly adapted for life underground.

As Bart waddled through his morning errands, he stopped, suddenly feeling as if something were wrong. He felt lighter. He took a few steps forward, but simply could not shake the feeling. As he turned to inspect himself, he discovered with a gasp that his tail was gone! Suddenly, two of his family members emerged from the mouth of the tunnel. Bart quickly faced them, pressing his bottom against the wall so they could not see his rear side. The two waddled past, groaning about a corn husk blockage in one of their tunnels.

“That was close,” Bart thought to himself. “But where, oh where, must my tail have gone? What would the wise old queen do in this situation?” he pondered. Then, in a spur of clarity, it came to him. “I should retrace my steps!”

Bart squeaked excitedly and waddled down the tunnel. He explored the caverns of his den, checking every corner and making sure to avoid the main nest where the colony had gathered. He arrived at a clearing only to discover that the next tunnel was blocked with soil! At that moment he heard the squeaks of his family members growing louder and louder as they approached. Bart had to work fast! Using his big teeth, he quickly shoveled the soil back. With his back legs and hairs between his toes, he swept the dirt behind him, creating a small tunnel just in the nick of time. He squeezed through before the others reached the clearing. Bart stumbled out of the tunnel, only to discover something quite exciting and delectable: a giant pile of food scraps lying on the floor. There were carrots, peas, apples, and leafy greens, all forming a pile even larger than him! Bart quickly became distracted by the cornucopia of treats and began gorging himself. After several minutes of lip-smacking jubilee, it dawned on him why he was there: “MY TAIL!!”

Bart plunged through tunnel after tunnel, searching high and low, with no success. He began feeling hopeless and defeated.

“What if I never find my tail,” he thought. “If the others see, they will laugh at me!” Bart slumped into a corner and began to softly weep. “What could I do? Who can help me?” he thought. Then an idea came to him. “The wise old queen! She’ll know what to do.”

Bart made his way to the nesting quarters in the hopes of gaining an audience with the queen. Upon entering, what he saw gave him quite the fright: 20 mole rats lying asleep around the queen. Bart carefully tiptoed through the pink mass of twitching, snoring bodies until reaching her.

“Your highness!”, he cried with tears in his eyes, “I need your help. As you can see, I lost my tail, and I don’t know what to do.”

The queen inspected little Bart, and with a warm chuckle said, “Oh, young one, I’m sorry you’ve lost your tail, but had you not told me I’d have never known.”

Bart was puzzled. “But how is that so?”

“Well, my sweet child, I cannot see and neither can you. We naked mole rats have awful vision; we rely primarily on our sense of smell and sensory hairs on our bodies!”

Bart chirped happily as his family members began waking up around him. They sniffed and warmly greeted him. “Why hello, Bart, where have you been?”

“Oh, nowhere,” Bart responded with a relieved smile, as he happily followed his family back to the pile of delicious treats.

In real life, the naked mole rat that we named Bart had a tail that had become compromised. Despite the best efforts of his care team and the Zoo’s Veterinary Team to allow him to heal on his own, his tail continued to decline. The Veterinary Team decided the best course of action was to remove his tail. The procedure was a success, and his remaining length of tail has healed well.  Our story begins when “Bart” returns to the colony after his procedure. Bart’s lack of a tail has not impeded his quality of life, and he can still regularly be found napping with his siblings in Zoo Atlanta’s naked mole rat building.

Alejandro G.
Intern, Elephants, Meerkats and Naked Mole Rats

(illustration: Alejandro G.)

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