We've Been Slandering Naked Mole-Rats All This Time

By Esther Inglis-Arkell on at

Yesterday marked a moral victory for the wrinkle-bags of the animal world. Naked mole-rats have been slandered for years as inbred monsters, but at last research shows that that’s not always true. #notallmolerats

Naked mole-rats have long been celebrated for their clear superiority to other rodents. They live three decades longer than their peers, seem to be cancer free for their entire lives, and have a complex “eusocial” society in which multiple generations live together sharing the work it takes to keep the colony running. Really, they’re an example of what we can all achieve if we are willing to give up beauty, clothes, sugar, body hair, and the prospect of ever seeing the sun again. Oh, and also if we give up having sex with people outside our family.

Yep, mole-rat societies were found to be inbred. Eusocial societies, in mammals, seem to require a certain amount of close family bonding. Scientists puzzled about the significance of the degree of inbreeding, especially because naked mole-rats are one of the few matriarchies outside of the insect kingdom. Was there a connection?

It now appears that there is not, for the simple reason that naked mole-rats aren’t actually inbred. The original genetic studies on mole-rats involved samples taken solely from an area south of the Athi river in Kenya. There was no reason at the time to suspect that these populations were in any way anomalous, but a recent study that took a look at the genetics of mole-rat populations north of the river turned up totally different results. The south river rats are inbred because they stem from a small initial founding population. Mole-rats north of the river are no more inbred than any other group of mammals.

This means that we’ve taken an animal that already has a face like a mutilated toe and somehow found a way to slander it.

[Source: Challenging the inbreeding hypothesis in a eusocial mammal.]