The most popular of the many types of mole rats, the naked mole rats are recognizable from their grayish-pink skin and massive incisors. In addition to that, they’re also one of the few animals that can live without oxygen for a relatively long period.
A naked mole-rat can survive without oxygen for 18 minutes by metabolizing fructose and keeping its vital organs safe as they enter a form of suspended animation.
A Brief Intro On the Naked Mole-Rat
The Heterocephalus glaber, most known as the naked mole-rat, is a herbivorous mammal with a size that can reach up to 16 inches and can weigh 3.3 pounds in weight. There are many types of mole-rats, but the naked mole-rat seems to be the most popular. Additionally, naked mole rats are the longest living rodents as they can achieve 30 cancer-free years. (Source: National Geographic)
One recognizable physical characteristic of naked mole-rats is their wrinkly pink or grayish-pink skin. They also have short heads, massive incisors, and powerful jaws that aid in digging. With no ears and minute eyes, these rodents are virtually blind, making their sense of smell significant in their day-to-day lives. Their sensitivity to vibrations in the ground and the air currents’ movements are also important.
Commonly found in Eastern Africa, most naked mole-rats are native to Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia, where they spend most of their hours underground in grassy, semi-arid areas. (Source: Smithsonian’s National Zoo)
Like many insects, they live in colonies headed by one dominant queen, which is the only naked mole-rat female allowed to reproduce and bear young. With their protruding snouts and teeth, the worker rodents unearth the burrows the whole community will occupy. Worker rodents also gather food such as roots and bulbs for them to eat. Other animals devote most of their time tending to the queen. (Source: National Geographic)
Naked Mole-Rats and Their Sweet Secret Talent
Findings from a 2017 study published from Chicago and Berlin research labs state that naked mole rats can survive up to six hours in severely-low oxygen environments and 18 minutes without any presence of oxygen using fructose. (Source: Science)
Instead of using oxygen and glucose for fuel, the naked mole rat’s cells digest fructose. When the naked mole-rat metabolizes fructose, the rodent enters a suspended animation form, protecting its vital organs from carbon dioxide poisoning and any other damage caused by oxygen deprivation. (Source: PBS News)
This seems to be sort of a rescue mechanism for the mole rat’s heart and neural cells because they can continue to use fructose even though the products of this metalysis would wind up toxic to them. But it’s more important to produce energy right away and have that risk as opposed to die and stop producing energy anyway.Gary Lewin, Neurologist
As one of the fructose’s byproducts is cellular breakdown-inducing lactic acid, the rodents sometimes tried to take a breath while lying dormant in the zero-oxygen environment, constantly checking for a hint of oxygen. Once the researchers added oxygen, the rodents awoke within a few seconds. This adaptation of the naked mole-rats can be significantly beneficial when oxygen levels plummet in their tunnel systems. (Source: PBS News)