Working at the Zoo has made a few things clear: March hares are mad; Goliath bird-eating tarantulas would rather snack on toads than Tweety, and naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) are neither entirely naked nor much mole nor really rat. But they are...FABULOUS! Just look at those teeth! Those little paws! That tiny wrinkly body made translucent by the absence of adipose fat!
These little subterranean treasures (they live underground in tunnels with 300 other family members) have dug their way right out of the dirt and right into my heart (seriously, don't ever let one of these things dig into your heart). I know they don't conform to traditional standards of beauty; but maybe their charm lies in the way their teeth grow outside their lips so they don't get dirt in their mouths when they dig with their incisors (the bottom two, by the way, can move independently of each other, like chopsticks). Hey: ALL God's critters got a place in the choir!
Anyhoo, last month I was treated to an exclusive behind-the-scenes/beyond-the-tunnel tour of the Small Mammal House, and now, I, myself, am one very happy small mammal. Move over fawning fennec fox-- ta ta, tawdry tamandua-- step off, servile skunk-- anyone can love an animal with big eyes and a furry little head. Gimme a mostly-blind largely hairless tube of skin that will chew through the wires any day!
For all you fact-o-philes, here are some good ones to pull out at the next cocktail party:
- Naked mole rats are the only cold-blooded mammals.
- NMRs and their relatives the Damaraland mole rat are the only eusocial mammals; that means they live in colonies and obey the whims of a queen who fights to assume dominance (dibs on the rights to Rodentia Theatre's next production of Cymbeline.)
- They are the longest-lived rodents on earth. In the wild they can live to about 30. If only the New York subway system were infested with these charmers instead of the hulking churls its got now.
- They can run as fast backward as forward. But they are also happy to climb over each other, especially if one stops to nap in a tunnel.
- They seem to be immune to cancer. I mean, their teeth are still pretty great, and everything...
So now if we could just do a little creative rebranding on that name... (maybe we could upgrade the poor Screaming Hairy Armadillo while we're at it?) The Internet has suggested "Saber-toothed sausage," which I think has an agreeable cadence, but lacks elegance. Maybe we can call them cheetahs. Wait-- that's taken. Huh. What if, instead of improving "naked mole rat", we just call every other animal by a more realistic three-word descriptor? Snakes could be Scaly Legless Abominations. Cats could be Fuzzy Spasmodic Yarn-tossers. Sloths could be Smiling Moldy Tree-dwellers.
And until such time as this noble creature has a noble name to match, consider me a member of the Screaming Hairy Hominids.