“After months of anticipation, the naked mole-rat colony at the Small Mammal House at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo finally has a queen,” the zoo announced on Monday.
In its announcement, the zoo noted that by the laws of biology and zoology, the only breeding female in a naked mole-rat colony is the queen.
Thus, through giving birth Monday morning to three offspring , did the queen of the Washington colony finally reveal herself.
Among the many distinctions of the naked mole rat is its identification as one of only two species of mammals that live in a large colony. In a naked mole-rat colony only two titles exist. Queen, and worker.
Apart from the queen, all of the other pink-skinned, hairless creatures, according to the zoo, share the designation of worker.
Naked mole rats have a few unique qualities. For one, they’re blind. And they’re considered to be among the “most prolific mammal breeders in the world,” according to the zoo. They queen has a 70-day gestation period and can have more than 30 babies in a litter.
After giving birth, the queen takes care of her offspring while the other naked mole rats bring her food so she doesn’t have to move, zoo officials said. The offspring usually nurse for about a month and then start trying solid foods in about two weeks.
The pups also eat the feces of other workers in the colony. It “inoculates their digestive systems with beneficial gut fauna,” according to zoo officials.
It was only this year that the zoo’s colony of 17 of the rodents arrived at its Connecticut Avenue home from the San Diego Zoo. When the burrowing animals got here, unfinished business awaited.
The members of the new colony had not yet chosen a queen.
One female, the zoo said, was the largest member of the colony. But that is not saying much. Mole-rats are usually about three inches long, and weigh no more than two ounces, although a queen can weigh a little more.
By her size, however, one female mole-rat, the zoo said, seemed to be most likely to wear the crown. Zoo officials told DCist that the mole rats fight to figure out who will be queen and at least four died in the process.
At the zoo, on Monday morning, according to the zoo, the likely candidate gave the ultimate demonstration of her credentials.
The little ones delivered Monday are known as pups. They are little. In fact, the zoo said in a statement they are “about the size of a jelly bean.”
So far, the zoo said, they are doing well.
But bringing up baby mole-rats is not an easy process.
“Keepers are hopeful, but extremely cautious that the colony will continue to care for the pups and that they will thrive,” the zoo said.
The last naked mole-rats to be born and survive were delivered in 1996, said the zoo statement.
In their native eastern Africa, Naked mole-rats use their powerful jaws and large incisors to create tunnels and burrows in locales including Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya.
Those wishing to visit the naked mole-rat colony will find its members at home at the Small Mammal House from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Also available are 24-hour a day live looks at the colony, broadcast by the naked mole-rat cam.
It was not clear who was the father of the pups.
Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this report.