All hail the queen: Naked mole-rat colonies have their own dialects—selected by their monarch

Sofia Moutinho in Science:

The naked mole-rat may not be the most attractive rodent on the block, but it’s still a social butterfly. These hairless, mostly blind and deaf animals live in colonies of up to 300 individuals, which communicate with high-pitched squeaks. Now, researchers have discovered that, like humans and many birds, mole-rat communities have their own dialect, which is kept alive by their queen. “The study is exciting because it provides the first evidence for vocal learning in a rodent,” says evolutionary biologist Tecumseh Fitch at the University of Vienna, who was not part of the work. More research, he says, may help scientists better understand how complex vocalizations evolved in social animals, including humans.

Naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) are renowned for a vast list of weird features: They rarely get cancer, for instance, they live longer than any other rodent, and they have a high pain tolerance. Researchers became interested in them in the 1970s because they are also a rare example of mammals living—like bees and ants—in colonies of workers ruled by a single breeding matriarch or “queen.” Scientists knew naked mole-rats used chirps to communicate, but until now, they had no idea how complex their vocalization was.

More here.