Have you ever heard of naked mole-rat? It is a small rodent that occurs naturally in East Africa and has been intensively studied for its unusual characteristics for more than thirty years. The morphology, social behaviour, physiology and ageing of this species still raise several questions. It turns out that some of the early findings about the naked mole-rats are often myths, misunderstood or misinterpreted ideas and information. The naked mole-rat is a very popular and curious species up to the present, it is also used as a biomedical model organism. For that reason, an article was created, in which Professor Burda from the Department of Game Management and Wildlife Biology from the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences participated. The authors of the article reviewed the 28 persisting myths about the naked mole-rats to facilitate future research on this extraordinary rodent.
One of the myths is that naked mole-rats are hairless. In fact, the naked mole-rats have very thin hairs dispersed over the body surface. It serves them for spatial orientation in the dark environment of subterranean burrows – so they are not naked as their name says.
Another myth is that the naked mole-rats do not feel pain. It is true that they are insensitive to acid, but their sensory neurons do respond to capsaicin (the plant alkaloid responsible for hot taste of pepper) and histamine. However, these signals are blocked in the naked mole-rats body around the spinal column. The manifestations of the effect caused by these substances, such as hyperalgesic (painful) thermal sensitivity or scratching behaviours, cannot be observed. In any case, the naked mole-rats can sense pain and due to axon fibres respond normally to tissue damage.
Although it is frequently reported that naked mole-rat colonies contain only one queen (breeding female). There is evidence from both captive and wild colonies, that more than one breeding female may be present. The most commonly were observed two or even three queens living temporarily in the colony. This occurs when the original queen dies or is removed, and more than one of her daughters begins to develop reproductively. An establish queen is sometimes willing to temporarily tolerate her daughter as another female capable of reproduction.
Another mistake is that naked mole-rat do not suffer from tumors or cancer. They appear to be resistant to it, at least to the same extent as some other species of wild rodents. Nevertheless, several cases of neoplasia (cancerous neoplasms) have been observed.
Naked mole-rats have many unique adaptations. By refuting lingering myths and misinterpreted information, this research can, among other things, save future biologists time and resources and make their research more productive.
prof. RNDr. Hynek Burda, CSc.
Professor Burda studied zoology at Charles University in Prague, working in many interesting positions in the Czech Republic, but also in Zambia and Germany. Until recently, he worked at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Essen, Germany, as a professor and head of the Department of General Zoology. Since 2000 he has also been a visiting professor at the Faculty of Biology of the University of South Bohemia in České Budějovice, and since 2010 he has been a professor of zoology at the Department of Gmae Management and Wildlife Biology, Faculty of Forestry and Wood Sciences, CULS, Prague. His current research interests include all aspects of the biology and evolution of underground mammals and the sensory ecology (with emphasis on magnetoreception) of vertebrates, especially mammals. He is the author and co-author of a Czech-Swahili dictionary, textbooks, other Czech and German books and professional works.
Prepared by: Andrea Moravcová