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Naked mole-rat
Roll out the red carpet! The queens have given birth—queens of Brookfield Zoo’s naked mole-rat colony, that is.

The 12 pups, born on June 15 and June 27 to two separate queens, were about three-quarters of an inch long and about as thick as an adult pinkie at birth. The two litters are the first successful birth from any of the six colonies at Brookfield Zoo since November 2006 and the first success for this particular colony since January 2000.

At about two weeks of age, the pups began eating solid foods. They are weaned at a month old and when they are two to three months of age they assume their role as a worker mole-rat. All 12 pups are healthy, and the older ones are attempting to explore the exhibit by traveling through the tunnels. They can be seen on exhibit in The Fragile Desert.

Naked mole-rats are not moles and they are not rats, though they are in the rodent family. And, despite their name and hairless appearance, they are not naked either. They actually have fine hair all over their body, including their head, tail, and toes. Their toe hair is especially important because the hairs work like a broom to move dirt when naked mole-rats dig.

Naked mole-rats live in colonies that typically consist of 20-30 members with a social structure similar to those of social insects, like ants. They live in very complex underground tunnel systems made of connecting chambers and burrows they dig with their long incisors. Each colony is governed by a caste system of workers and a single breeding female, called the queen, whose sole duty is to give birth. Once a female rises to become queen, she defends her title by shoving other females who challenge her as well as suppress their breeding by secreting pheromones.

Wild naked mole-rat populations are highly successful in their native Africa, though they are often viewed as pests due to disruptions caused to crops and underground cables by their burrowing.