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Which Mammals Are Unique in Having Lifelong Fertility?

Unlike most mammals that experience menopause, naked mole-rats boast lifelong fertility, defying the typical aging process. This remarkable trait is a window into understanding aging and reproductive health. How might these resilient creatures unlock secrets to human longevity? Join us as we examine the science behind this fascinating phenomenon. What could their unique biology teach us about our own?
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman

The more scientists discover about naked mole-rats, the more obvious it becomes that these burrowing rodents truly are unique. Besides their bizarre appearance, naked mole-rats have numerous physiological traits that make them very different from any other mammal.

For example, their temperature regulation system means they are practically cold-blooded. They are highly resistant to pain, have very low respiratory and metabolic rates, and don't seem susceptible to cancer. Naked mole-rats are, by far, the longest-lived rodents, sometimes living into their 30s in captivity.

Unlike other mammals, female naked mole-rats don’t experience a decline in fertility as they age because they aren’t born with a finite number of egg cells.
Unlike other mammals, female naked mole-rats don’t experience a decline in fertility as they age because they aren’t born with a finite number of egg cells.

And unlike all other mammals, female naked mole-rats don't appear to experience a decline in fertility as they age. They can essentially continue reproducing throughout their lives, and scientists have recently discovered what makes this possible. While other mammals, including humans, are born with a finite reserve of egg cells that diminishes over the course of their lives, naked mole-rats are different. They are born without egg cells but produce a huge number of them in their youth, which they continue replenishing as they age.

The weird and wonderful naked mole-rat:

  • Researchers are especially keen to learn more about this extraordinary trait as it could perhaps lead to advancements that prolong fertility in humans, who are living longer yet not experiencing a delayed onset of menopause.

  • Like bees and ants, naked mole-rats are eusocial animals (one of only two eusocial mammal species), so each colony has just one reproducing female at a time – the queen. Interestingly, the non-reproductive female workers have ovaries that don't mature unless one of them takes the queen's place when she dies or is removed.

  • Naked mole-rats are native to parts of East Africa. Nearly hairless (hence the name) and with poor vision, they are excellent diggers who live in extensive networks of underground tunnels in colonies of around 80 individuals.

Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman is a teacher and blogger who frequently writes for WiseGEEK about topics related to personal finance, parenting, health, nutrition, and education. Learn more...

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    • Unlike other mammals, female naked mole-rats don’t experience a decline in fertility as they age because they aren’t born with a finite number of egg cells.
      By: Rawpixel Ltd
      Unlike other mammals, female naked mole-rats don’t experience a decline in fertility as they age because they aren’t born with a finite number of egg cells.