Naked mole rats are the most unusual animals we've ever had at the Science Center. These tiny creatures, who live on the third floor in our Eat and Be Eaten exhibition, have incredible health (they can live up to 32 years, which is extremely long for an animal their size), almost never get cancer, and remain active and youthful even as they grow elderly.
We are constantly seeing new research from scientists who discover more and more strange things about the mole rats. And now this week, a new study has come out of Japan, suggesting that naked mole rat queens may control their subordinates via poop.
To understand this, remember that naked mole rats form eusocial colonies, which means they have a single queen who produces all the offspring (like ants and bees). The other mole rats in the colony are nonreproductive, and all work together to help take care of the queen's offspring.
In this new study, the researchers tried to understand why the subordinates in the colony are so effective at taking care of babies – or "pups" – even when they aren't their own.
Based on experiments that involved feeding poop to mole rats (it's not weird, trust us!) the researchers identified that subordinates were much more responsive to the cries of pups after consuming hormones in the feces of their queen.
So, in a way, the queen uses poop to brainwash her colony into providing free daycare. Sounds like a good plan to us!
As always, it's fascinating to learn more about the surreal behaviors of mole rats, and we can't wait to see what this new discovery leads to next. To learn more about this new study, check out this great write-up from The Atlantic, and meet the mole rats in person on your next trip to the Science Center.