Damaraland Mole Rat

(Cryptomys damarensis)

Habitat and Distribution: Found underground in dry woodlands, savannas, and secondary forests of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.

Size:  4-12 inches long; 3-7 ounces. Males are larger than females.

Wild Diet: Roots, tubers, bulbs, and aloe leaves; occasionally earthworms and insect larvae

Predators: Snakes

Lifespan: Estimated 10 years in the wild; up to 15 years in zoos

Reproduction: Females give birth to a litter of 1-3 young after a gestation of 11-16 weeks. Damaraland mole rats are thought to breed only once a year in the wild, but in zoos two litters per year are common. Offspring are weaned after about 12 weeks. While the young are nursing, other members of the colony help the mother care for her young by grooming, feeding, and protecting them.

Behavior: Damaraland mole rats are one of only two mammals to display eusociality, a cooperative breeding system in which colony members devote their lives to the reproductive success of one breeding queen and her mate. Large, sterile members called "soldiers" assemble in ranks to protect the queen and colony from predators and non-family mole rats (although it is usually the breeders who deal with dangerous intruders). Colonies dig elaborate tunnel systems to find food and spend nearly their entire lives underground. Labor is divided among sterile workers who dig tunnels, care for the young, forage, and store food. Individuals may disperse and attempt to establish their own colonies when conditions are favorable for digging and foraging.

Conservation

IUCN Status: Least Concern

Damaraland mole rats are very common and their habitat is not currently threatened.

Did you know?

  • Damaraland mole rats have large incisors that extend past their lips even when the mouth is closed. This allows them to dig with their teeth without ingesting dirt.
  • They can barely see, but use the surfaces of their eyes to detect air currents.
  • Their tunnels loosen the soil, which makes it easier for water to reach deep-rooted trees.
  • They are also known as "Damara mole rats" and "blesmols." Damara refers to an ethnic group of people making up almost 9% of the population of Namibia; Damaraland refers to their historic region (northwest Namibia). Blesmol means "blaze mole" and refers to the white patch on their heads.
  • The queen rules the Damaraland mole rat colony, but how is the queen chosen? She fights for it! Mole rats spar with their long incisors, sometimes inflicting fatal injuries upon their opponents.
  • A colony's queen has a longer body than the other females. Like naked mole rats, they all share a restroom and it is believed that the queen's urine keeps the other females sterile.