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Vertebrate of the Year
It’s a safe bet that the naked mole rat didn’t get its exalted status as Vertebrate of the Year on its good looks alone.

A small (3” to 4” long) hairless ground- dwelling rodent native to Eastern Africa, its eyesight is poor, as is its ability to regulate its body temperature; it can only huddle with other mole rats to get warm.

Perhaps to compensate for a face that only a mother mole rat could love, naked mole rat was given some spectacular gifts: a lifespan of up to 31 years, (compared to a maximum of 7 years for the common rat), inability to feel much pain and apparent immunity to cancer. As they move through their underground tunnels, and can scurry backward as fast as they can move forward. When they encounter another mole rat in a tunnel, they bump teeth as a greeting.

Bizarre little creatures, mole rats are the only mammals yet discovered who organize their colonies the way ants, bees and wasps and termites do—that is, only one female (the queen) and a few males reproduce, while the rest of the population is sterile and function as workers.

The researchers who are looking into the world of the naked mole rat plan to see if mole rat’s longevity and cancer resistance can be transferred to other animals.