Do Naked Mole-Rats Have Their Own Language?

Naked Mole-Rats

Why did scientists want to learn about naked mole-rats and their language?

Naked mole-rats are rodents that live together in underground tunnels dug in the dry and grassy areas of countries like Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia.

The animals live in groups called colonies. A colony can have 70–290 individual mole-rats. Each colony has a queen, who is the only female who can have babies. Other male and female mole-rats work together for the colony. They raise the queen’s babies, bring food to the colony, and protect and defend the colony.

The colonies are very organized and efficient, which led scientists to investigate how the rats can maintain such order. According to the scientists who studied the rodents, naked mole-rats that belong to the same colony have a unique way of communicating. The rats’ shared language allows them maintain their colony running smoothly.

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What did scientists discover when they listened?

Scientists have long been interested in naked mole-rats. For instance, scientists have done numerous studies on these rodents’ unusually long lifespans. Naked mole-rats can live for as long as 30 years, which is highly unusual for small rodents.

When scientists observed the homes of the naked mole-rats, they noticed that the animals produced chirps, squeaks, grunts, twits, and other sounds. They wanted to analyze whether these sounds meant anything and whether they helped the creatures do their tasks in their respective colonies.

They discovered that, indeed, the sounds the rats produced allowed them to communicate with one another. Each colony has a distinctive accent or dialect that members recognize. In an experiment, scientists found that naked mole-rats only responded to audio recordings of chirps that were recorded from their colony, and not to sounds from other colonies.

Are the rats genetically conditioned to develop language?

In addition, scientists also found that the rats’ language ability has nothing to do with their genetics. Instead, the rats learn the language as a member of a colony. They discovered this when they put three orphaned mole-rat pups into foreign colonies (not the colonies where they were born). Eventually, the young ones learned their adoptive colonies’ languages, not the language of the colony where they were born.

Who decides what language the colony speaks?

The scientists also found out that it is the queen who decides what language the colony speaks. During their study, the scientists observed that a colony lost its queen twice. Without a queen, language in the colony began to differ widely and became inconsistent. But when a new queen emerged, order resumed, and the colony started to follow the new queen’s language.

What’s next for scientists?

In the future, scientists want to understand how the brains of these animals process their language. They believe that this will help them understand the development of human language and culture.

After reading the passage, answer the following questions:

  1. Why did the scientists want to study the naked mole rats’ language?
  • They wanted to analyze whether the sounds naked mole-rats produced meant anything and whether they helped the creatures do their tasks in their respective colonies.
  • They wanted to investigate how the rats can maintain order in their colonies.
  • Both a and b
  • Only a
Answer: c
  1. What did scientists learn about the naked mole-rats’ language?
  • Each colony has a unique language.
  • The mole rats learn the language of their colony as babies.
  • The queen decides what language the colony will speak.
  • All of the above
Answer: d
  1. Which of the following statements are true?
  • Orphaned pups transferred to foreign colonies learned the language of the foreign colonies.
  • A colony’s language depends on the queen.
  • Both a and b
  • Only a
Answer: c
  1. According to the text, why do scientists want to learn more about how naked mole-rats process language?
  • To help them understand the development of human language and culture
  • To understand what the language of the naked mole-rats means
  • To communicate with the naked mole-rats
  • To develop a synthetic language like the naked mole-rats’
Answer: a

Recommended Reading Age: 8th  Grade

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