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The Underground Wonder: Exploring the World of the Lesser-mole Rat (Spalax leucodon)

Updated: Apr 2

The Lesser-mole Rat (Spalax leucodon) is a fascinating creature that lives in underground burrows and has adapted to a subterranean lifestyle. The mole rat has a cylindrical body shape, short legs, and large front teeth that are ideal for digging tunnels.

Image of the lesser mole rat in Ukraine
Image Source: Максим Яковлєв in Ukraine

The mole rat has poor eyesight due to living in the dark, but it has a keen sense of hearing and smell. These senses help the mole rat navigate its environment and find food.


The burrows of the Lesser-mole Rat are an impressive feat of engineering, with some systems extending over 200 meters in length. The burrows consist of a network of tunnels, chambers, and entrance holes, which the mole rats use for shelter, food storage, and reproduction. The burrows are also designed to allow for proper ventilation, which is essential for the mole rats to survive in their subterranean habitat. Additionally, the burrows play an essential role in the ecosystem, as they provide a home for other organisms such as insects, reptiles, and small mammals. Overall, the burrows of the Lesser-mole Rat are an impressive example of the species' adaptation to a subterranean lifestyle.


Naked Mole Rat tunnel diagram. Cousin of Lesser-mole rat.
Image Source: The Scientist Magazine

The diagram above is a typical Naked-mole rat tunnel system. They are cousins of the Lesser-mole rat.


Crazy Fact: The mole rat has a unique set of adaptations that allow it to survive in an oxygen-depleted environment, including a unique hemoglobin that has a high affinity for oxygen and a slow metabolic rate. In other words, they can breathe in environments that would kill humans and many other mammals.


Diet

The mole rat is a herbivorous species that feed on roots, tubers, and bulbs. They are also known to store food in their burrows for later consumption. The species is known to live in family groups, and they communicate through a range of vocalizations, scents, and touch.


Conservation

Like the Sandy mole rat, this rodent also is indigenous to Ukraine. The mole rat's subterranean lifestyle has helped it to avoid predators, but its habitat is under threat due to human activities such as agriculture, urbanization, and now war. Conservation efforts were underway to protect the mole rat but efforts are now hampered due to Russia's illegal war against Ukraine.


Watch the video below to learn more.


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