Thursday Science: The Homer Simpson of Rodents

Damaraland mole-rats; Crypotmys damarensis i i

We're not going to speculate on what these Damaraland mole-rats (Crypotmys damarensis) are doing. T.Jackson hide caption

itoggle caption T.Jackson
Damaraland mole-rats; Crypotmys damarensis

We're not going to speculate on what these Damaraland mole-rats (Crypotmys damarensis) are doing.

T.Jackson

African mole-rats live very orderly lives. Like ants (and labor unions) mole-rats have very specific job categories. There's a queen mole-rat. Then there are the drone rats that service the queen, take care of the kids, scrub the toilets, etc. Then there are the furry little guys (these are NOT the famous NAKED mole-rats) that John Nielsen calls the "rat middle managers."

Nielsen is NPR's environmental correspondent. Currently, he's working on a "creature feature" — a piece about odd animal behavior. He told us about a good-for-nothing class of mole-rats that live in the Kalahari Desert. "They really don't do anything," says Nielsen, "They just eat and sleep and lay around in their t-shirts all day." They have only one purpose in life... to do the nasty.

Every two years or so, it rains in the Kalahari just enough to soften the ground so that the middle-manager rats can dig out of their underground layers. They seek out females and have hot and heavy sex, nonstop... for two weeks. The scientific explanation for this randy behavior, according to Nielsen, is to create new mole-rat colonies, expand the population and add names to the little black book.

Note: John Nielsen had an enormous smile on his face as he told us this story.

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