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The Long Gestation of the Small Naked Mole-Rat (Heterocephalus glaber RÜPPELL, 1842) Studied with Ultrasound Biomicroscopy and 3D-Ultrasonography

By Kathleen Roellig, Barbara Drews, Frank Goeritz and Thomas Bernd Hildebrandt


The naked mole-rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is one of the two known mammalian species that live in a eusocial population structure. Here we investigate the exceptionally long gestation period of 70 days observed in the mole-rat queen. The course of seven successful pregnancies in two individuals was recorded in a colony of captive naked mole-rats using ultrasound biomicroscopy (UBM) and 3D-ultrasonography. We establish a catalogue of basic reference ultrasound data for this species by describing the ultrasonographic appearance of reproductive organs, calculating growth curves to predict gestational age and defining ultrasonographic milestones to characterize pregnancy stages. Mean litter size was 10.9±2.7, of which 7.2±1.5 survived the weaning period. Mean interbirth interval was 128.8±63.0 days. The reproductive success in our colony did not differ from previously published data. In the queen the active corpora lutea had an anechoic, fluid filled centre. Using UBM, pregnancy could be detected 53 days before parturition. The period of embryonic development is assumed to last until 30 days before parturition. Embryonic resorptions were detected frequently in the queen, indicating that this might be an ordinary event in this species. We discuss the extraordinary long gestation period of this small rodent and postulate that the long gestation is beneficial to both the eusocial structure and longevity. An increased litter size, twice as large as for other rodents of similar size, seemingly compensates for the doubling of pregnancy length. We demonstrate that the lifetime reproductive effort of a naked mole-rat queen is equivalent to the mass of offspring that would be produced if all of the females of a colony would be reproducing

Topics: Research Article
Publisher: Public Library of Science
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Provided by: PubMed Central

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