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Cozy up to our naked mole rat colony

Happy New Year to all and welcome back from the holidays. If you’ve been around the Zoo recently, you have noticed that construction is underway on our Grand New View project. This is an exciting time for us in the Elephant Team, as well as everyone here at Zoo Atlanta. If you frequent the Keeper Stories, you already know that the warthogs have moved and are under the care of our industrious Hoofstock Team. As for us on the Elephant Team, you may not know that we also care for the Zoo’s naked mole rat colony!

Naked mole rats are very fascinating animals. They are only one of two mammals (the other being the Damaraland mole rat) that have a eusocial social structure. This means that all members of the colony are cooperative and work for the benefit of the social group. This is the same behavior you see in many insects like ants, bees and termites. Like those insects, the naked mole rats follow a queen. She is the largest member of the colony and is the only female in the colony who breeds. The queen has a harem of one to three males that she will breed with. Next in line come the colony’s soldiers, who defend against predators. Then come the workers. The workers are very busy, and even they are divided into several categories. There are diggers who just dig out the new tunnels. Sweepers, whose job is to push the fresh dirt toward the tunnel opening. Volcanoers push the dirt out of the opening, leaving a mound similar to a volcano. There are also nest builders and food gatherers that help to keep their underground chambers clean and stocked with food.

The most impressive thing about naked mole rats is that they do all of this underground. These active little rodents can dig tunnel systems that can span the size of a football field. Throughout these tunnels they create specialized chambers that serve a specific purpose. They have a nursery, make bedrooms, create a food pantry to store extra food, and they even create designated bathrooms.

So make sure to stop by and check out our naked mole rats, next to the Komodo dragon habitat. They make a great stop on a cold, wintry day too (we keep the building nice and warm for them).
Steve Crews
Keeper III, Mammals

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