Thursday, August 27, 2009

Mole-Rat Update

The biggest news of the summer at Pacific Science Center’s Life Sciences department has got to be the baby naked mole-rats born on August 6. Because many people have been asking about the babies’ welfare, Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore has provided a week-three update.

**This article was updated on August 31, 2009. See below**

Sometime around August 23 the mole-rat pups passed a very important milestone. That was when staff members spotted them eating solid food.
Their first foods, sweet potatoes and jicama, are both fairly firm, crunchy food, not what we think of as a good texture for infants. However, there were softer foods available, such as thawed frozen peas and “dough balls” made from baby cereal mixed with nutritionally complete rodent food. Yet the pups chose something very chewy.

These little animals are already growing teeth. Like other rodents, naked mole-rats’ teeth continue to add enamel throughout their lives. The process of chewing helps them keep their teeth even and at the right length, so chewing hard foods probably feels good to them, even as babies. Having good, functional teeth is a sign that our babies are developing well.

As they start eating more adult food, the pups will show a very unusual behavior. They will start begging older animals for cecotropes, a special kind of pellet produced by the digestive systems of mature naked mole-rats. The pellets give the pups valuable beneficial organisms (probiotics) that help them digest their food. Without them the babies would not be able to get the nutrients they need. Readers with pet rabbits may have observed them eating their own cecal pellets for the same reason.

The pups are also starting to move around the chambers on their own. This is a positive development as some of the workers recently worked their way through one of the barriers that was separating the nursery from the main colony. The entire colony is now together with the new mother and her pups. So far their behavior appears healthy and normal.

Our Animal Care team will continue to monitor them closely to ensure that the pups are not harmed by the many large workers that are now surrounding them. Come visit our exhibit at Pacific Science Center and check back on this blog for more updates as these adorable babies continue to grow.

On Saturday August 29, our Animal Care staff discovered that one of the naked mole-rat pups had died. Unfortunately we were not able to bring it to the vet for a necropsy, so we will not know the exact cause of death. This is a reminder that the mole-rat pups are still in a fragile stage of their lives. We are approaching day 28. By September 11, day 36, they will be entirely eating solid food. That will be the second time of high risk. We have to hope the cecotropes did their work as a lot of mammals run into problems at weaning.


  1. The mole rats are pretty cute :) We were just there on Saturday looking at them!

  2. Jeez - It's not nice to fool Mother Nature. What use will these poor things have besides food for bigger prey. Let's just work harder on finding a cure for cancer instead of messing with creation.

  3. "Jeez - It's not nice to fool Mother Nature." -Anonymous, August 28, 2009 7:12 AM

    Dear Anonymous- Are you mistaking naked mole-rats for some genetically modified animal? These eusocial mammals have been living in eastern Africa for over 2 million years. Yet we still have a lot to learn about/from them. Maybe even the cure for cancer?

  4. Our naked mole-rats are never used as feeder animals for predators - their only role at Pacific Science Center is to educate the public about the amazing animal diversity in the world, which they do by going about their daily lives.

    Elsewhere, these animals are studied as a model not specifically for curing cancer but for understanding longevity. They can live up to 28 years in captivity which is far longer than other mammals of their size.

    See this fascinating article for more:

  5. I love these little guys so much. I just wish I could kiss 'em!!!!


  6. i recently found something resembling a newborn molerat not sure if it is or not but they havent opened any eyes. there are 2 of them and they are about 2-3 cm long but they are definitely newborn and i dont eant them to just die...what can i feed them and what sort of habitat should they be in?? please respond before they die!!!

  7. To the poster who found the pups - if you live in the US and found them on your property, the pups are almost certainly not naked mole-rats. Many baby rodents have a common look - the hairless, toothy quality that mole-rats never lose.

    At 2-3 cm the could be rats or squirrels. Mice would be even smaller. Were they in a nest in the ground? Near a damaged tree? Where you found them may provide clues as to what they are.

    Regardless, their best chance of survival is with their mom. They need milk to grow and thrive. Was there a nest? If so, and if it is relatively undisturbed, leaving them there is the best bet.

    Otherwise, I would contact your local wildlife rehabilitation center. Some of them have programs for baby squirrels, although with the finest of human care, baby wildlife still face tough odds away from their parents.

  8. wow...... they look soooo cool! It is also interesting to konw that there might be away to cure cancer

  9. I want to know what the size of a full grown naked mole rats teeth is