Agriculture
Vitamin D-licious Mushrooms
Making the most of a meal
Seeds of the Future
Amphibians
Frogs and Toads
Bullfrogs
Salamanders and Newts
Animals
Poor Devils
Walks on the Wild Side
Gliders in the Family
Behavior
Between a rock and a wet place
Lost Sight, Found Sound
Chimpanzee Hunting Tools
Birds
Geese
Macaws
Waterfowl
Chemistry and Materials
Bang, Sparkle, Burst, and Boom
Big Machine Reveals Small Worlds
A Butterfly's Electric Glow
Computers
Batteries built by Viruses
Earth from the inside out
Toxic Dirt + Avian Flu = Science Fair Success
Dinosaurs and Fossils
The man who rocked biology to its core
Feathered Fossils
A Big, Weird Dino
E Learning Jamaica
E Learning in Jamaica WIN PRIZES and try our Fun Animated Games
Results of GSAT are in schools this week
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
Earth
Drilling Deep for Fuel
Earth Rocks On
Hints of Life in Ancient Lava
Environment
The Oily Gulf
Will Climate Change Depose Monarchs?
Forests as a Tsunami Shield
Finding the Past
A Human Migration Fueled by Dung?
Sahara Cemetery
Fakes in the museum
Fish
Tiger Sharks
Nurse Sharks
A Jellyfish's Blurry View
Food and Nutrition
The Essence of Celery
Chocolate Rules
In Search of the Perfect French Fry
GSAT English Rules
Who vs. Whom
Pronouns
Problems with Prepositions
GSAT Exam Preparation Jamaica
Ministry of Education Announces 82 GSAT Scholarships for 2010
March 21-22, 2013: Over 43,000 students will take the GSAT Exam
GSAT Scholarship
GSAT Exams Jamaica Scholarships
2014 GSAT Results for Jamaican Kids
GSAT Scholarship
Access denied - Disabled boy aces GSAT
GSAT Mathematics
Detecting True Art
Math Naturals
It's a Math World for Animals
Human Body
A Long Trek to Asia
Tapeworms and Drug Delivery
Hear, Hear
Invertebrates
Bees
Horseshoe Crabs
Black Widow spiders
Mammals
African Zebra
Woolly Mammoths
Bison
Parents
The Surprising Meaning and Benefits of Nursery Rhymes
Raise a Lifelong Reader by Reading Aloud
How children learn
Physics
Hold on to your stars, ladies and gentlemen
Strange Universe: The Stuff of Darkness
The Mirror Universe of Antimatter
Plants
Hungry bug seeks hot meal
Underwater Jungles
Making the most of a meal
Reptiles
Turtles
Crocodilians
Boa Constrictors
Space and Astronomy
Ready, Set, Supernova
A Great Ball of Fire
World of Three Suns
Technology and Engineering
Drawing Energy out of Wastewater
Smart Windows
Supersuits for Superheroes
The Parts of Speech
Pronouns
What is a Verb?
Countable and Uncountable Nouns
Transportation
Reach for the Sky
Tinkering With the Basic Bike
Revving Up Green Machines
Weather
A Dire Shortage of Water
In Antarctica watch the heat (and your step)
Science loses out when ice caps melt
Add your Article

Lives of a Mole Rat

Some animals are easy to love. Mole rats don't fit into this category. With their huge teeth, squinty eyes, piglike noses, and, in some cases, wrinkled, nearly hairless bodies, mole rats aren't exactly cute and cuddly. The pesky rodents also steal food from farmers. Scientists who study mole rats, however, are smitten with the toothy critters, whose bodies, brains, and social lives offer a wealth of possibilities for research. These animals use their protruding teeth to dig networks of underground tunnels. They live in complex societies, like termites and honeybees do. One species even has do-nothing couch potatoes among its members. "There are so many interesting things about them, and very little is known," says Nigel Bennett. He's a biologist at the University of Pretoria, South Africa. "For me, they're little goldmines because there's so much to be found out about them." Social lives Mole rats are rodents, but they're more closely related to guinea pigs and porcupines than to moles or to rats. They live in Africa, Southeast Asia, and South America. But they're not easy to spot. That's because, Bennett explains, most of their activities take place underground. This is where the mole rats burrow, mate, and eat. Understandably for tunnel dwellers, they live on roots and tubers, such as sweet potatoes and carrots. It's the mole rat lifestyle that first attracted the attention of scientists. Within a colony of as many as 300 members, there's just one queen, and she chooses to mate with only one to three males. In ways that researchers do not yet understand, the queen prevents other females from reproducing. This kind of social structure, called eusocial, is common among bees, wasps, and termites. Mole rats are the only mammals known to live this way. Couch potatoes Among naked mole rats, a eusocial lifestyle probably developed, in part, because most colony members are closely related. Individual members of a colony don't need to mate to carry on the species when they're related and have lots of genes in common, and individuals are willing to make sacrifices for family. This theory, however, doesn't explain some of the mole rat's other behavioral quirks. In a species called Damaraland mole rats, for instance, some individuals do a lot of work, while others laze around and do nothing. Researchers have observed that some animals are born into laziness. They don't even have to earn their leisure time. "It you were working hard all the time, and you saw your sister doing nothing, you'd be quite upset," Bennett says. "Mole rats seem to tolerate it." In a recent study, Bennett and his team found that active workers, which make up 65 percent of the colony, do 95 percent of the work. Because lazy individuals sit around so much, they're fatter than their hard-working pals. So why would a group put up with individuals that eat a lot but contribute little? Rain may be the answer. In order for mole rats to dig their tunnels, the soil must be wet and soft. Bennett's group found that lazy mole rats become active after rainfall. This observation convinced the scientists that the chubby, lazy animals spend most of their time saving up energy so they can tunnel off to mate or to start new colonies when the ground is soft. This role is just as important as working, and the rest of the colony puts up with it because they're all family. "They're like teenage children," Bennett says. "They eat up all your food and do very little work around the house, but you tolerate them because your genes are there. They're going to go off in the future and produce grandchildren." As Bennett and his colleagues learn more about the social lives of mole rats, other scientists are investigating the animals' bodies and brains. Peculiar details are showing up here too. Ken Catania, a biologist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., works with artists such as Lara Finch to create pictures that illustrate how much of an animal's brain is devoted to each body part. The larger the body part in one of these drawings, the more brainpower the animal directs to it. Most mammals use lots of brainpower to see, smell, or hear. But mole rats are different. They use most of their brainpower to get feedback from their teeth, Catania says. They use their teeth to feel, dig, and sense the environment. "The teeth are huge, and that's extremely weird and unusual for an animal's sensory system," Catania says about the "brain's-eye view" illustration (above). "It's the only species we've looked at that has such a huge representation of teeth in the brain." New research also shows that female mole rats grow in length when they become queens and start having babies. This discovery leads to a list of new questions about how the creatures grow and how individuals change status within a group. "No other animals I know of change form so dramatically as adults," Catania says. A second look If the long list of facts and quirky details doesn't get the love flowing, maybe the words of a veteran mole rat researcher will convince you to give these little creatures a second look. "Lots of people don't think they're very pretty," says Bennett, who has been studying Damaraland mole rats for 22 years. "You have to spend time with them. They're lovely animals. I think they're beautiful."

Lives of a Mole Rat
Lives of a Mole Rat








Designed and Powered by HBJamaica.com™