Zoo Atlanta’s strangest animal society may be expecting their first litter. Zoo Atlanta’s Animal Management and Veterinary Teams are reasonably certain that the naked mole rat queen is pregnant based on several changes as bizarre as the species itself.
The pregnancy also confirms that the dominant female has officially been crowned the monarch of her underground kingdom. Rival naked mole rat females fight for supremacy, and the dominant female is recognized as queen by the rest of the colony. Over a period of months, her vertebrae become elongated, resulting in a gradual expansion of her skeletal structure until she is physically larger and longer than any other member of the colony.
Naked mole rat gestation is 72 days, but Zoo Atlanta officials aren’t certain as to when the new queen will deliver. The litter size is 5 to 15 pups, although naked mole rat queens have been
known to birth as many as 27 pups at a time.
Native to subterranean tunnels beneath the grasslands of Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, naked mole rats and a related species, the Damaraland mole rat, are the world’s only known eusocial mammals. Naked mole rat colonies are hierarchically arranged in the service of a queen, similarly to bees, ants and termites. Only the queen breeds, typically with one to three select
males; other colony members serve as soldiers or workers.
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