The naked mole rat is one of only two mammals known to be eusocial – they live like bees with one queen, a few breeding males, and a largely sterile colony that function as workers. A colony can have as many as 300 members.
Queens live from 13 to 18 years, and are extremely hostile to other females behaving like queens, or who produce hormones for becoming queens. When the queen dies, another female takes her place, sometimes after a violent struggle with her competitors.
Once established, the new queen undergoes a remarkable transformation that sees her grow much bigger and ready to bear pups. During her reproductive state, the queen actually grows much longer by stretching the space between the vertebrae in her backbone. This allows her to hold her developing babies, which can number as many as 20 per litter. No other mammal is known to do this upon reaching maturity.
In a study, it was found that normal human and mouse cells would grow and divide until they mash tightly against one another in a single, dense layer—a mechanism known as “contact inhibition.” But naked mole rat cells stop growing as soon as they touch, which means that they can never form tumours.
Another fascinating fact about naked mole rats is that they do not feel pain! This is because their bodies do not produce a chemical known as substance P, which is a neurotransmitter that sends pain messages to the central nervous system. This is especially helpful since they spend most of their lives underground where they are exposed to acidic soil conditions. Scientists hope that further research will lead to new discoveries of pain management in humans.