Sensory Systems of the African Naked Mole-Rat.


Naked mole-rats share some sensory characteristics with other subterraneans, including lack of object vision, retention of the ability to entrain their circadian rhythm to light, and poor hearing. On the other hand, a characteristic that may be specialized in the naked mole-rat is their exquisite orienting responses to the touch of even a single body vibrissa. They have about 100 whisker-like body vibrissae on their otherwise furless bodies. They are also insensitive to chemical and inflammatory pain, likely an adaptation to living in an atmosphere that is high in carbon dioxide, a result of many respiring individuals driving carbon dioxide accumulation. Naked mole-rats have the highest population density among subterranean mammals. High levels of carbon dioxide cause tissue acidosis and associated pain. Remarkably, naked mole-rats are completely immune to carbon dioxide-induced pulmonary edema. However, they retain the ability to detect acid as a taste (sour). Finally, their ability to smell and discriminate odors is comparable to that of rats and mice, but their vomeronasal organ, associated with sensing pheromones, is extremely small and shows a complete lack of post-natal growth. In this chapter, we review what is known about the sensory systems of the naked mole-rat with emphasis on how they differ from other mammals, and even other subterraneans. More extensive accounts of the naked mole-rat's auditory and pain systems can be found in other chapters of this book.