Saturday, December 20, 2008

Humans and Naked Mole Rats

When it comes to the sanitation systems of animals, humans rank right with the naked mole rat (pictured). A new paper examines the link between social behavior and waste management. Some species have removed the matter of waste altogether. Some parasites, bees, wasps and ant larvae possess a blind gut - a closed digestive system in which no waste leaves the body. The authors of the study hypothesize that this highly effective sanitation system (no waste) facilitated the complex, structured social systems observed in bees and ants.

Humans have developed external means to remove our waste, similar to the naked mole rat, which builds latrines in underground tunnels. Interestingly, the naked mole rat is the only known mammal to exhibit eusociality - the reproductive class social system (queens and workers, etc) well-known in ants, wasps and bees. Also of note, the rat is nearly blind, almost cold-blooded and has no pain receptors in its skin - all seemingly conducive to an active subterranean social life and leaving only the question, why is the naked mole rat so good-looking?

(image credit: Trisha M Shears,