Digging the Underground Life

A rare peek inside the subterranean home of the naked mole-rat

By Thomas J. Park and Rochelle Buffenstein | June 1, 2012

Digging the Underground Life
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LOGAN PARSONS

Given the strictly subterranean existence of the naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber), it is not surprising that naked mole-rats have evolved a set of characteristics highly suited to life in dark, dank burrows. Here are a few:
Blood: Naked mole-rats have a greater number of red blood cells per unit volume, and the hemoglobin in the red blood cells has a higher affinity for oxygen than that of most other mammals, so their blood is better at capturing what little oxygen there is.
Ears: No external ears, only openings in the sides of the head
Eyes: Very small eyes, which the animals often don’t bother to open, that are only able to distinguish light from dark
Metabolism: Their mass-specific metabolic rate is about 70 percent that of other rodents, meaning their tissues use oxygen at a slower rate.
Teeth: Tusk-like teeth that protrude through the skin, enabling naked mole-rats to close their lips while using their teeth to dig through the soil without getting dirt in their mouths
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