Nudist colony: Naked mole-rats to get 24/7 webcam at Smithsonian’s National Zoo

WASHINGTON — They’re naked, buck-toothed and nearly blind, but that isn’t stopping a colony of 17 naked mole-rats from trying to take the internet by storm at the Smithsonian National Zoo.

The zoo announced that their latest round of guests will be available for public viewing starting Sept. 1, in a brand-new enclosure that has been designed to give visitors a behind-the-scenes look into the lives of the mole-rat. One day before their grand debut, the rodents can be seen on a brand-new high-definition webcam.

The Smithsonian said in a statement that the new exhibit is designed to mimic the way mole-rats would build a burrow in their natural habitat. It features around 25 feet of tunnels where they can be seen on patrol, eating, sleeping and generally doing all the things that naked mole-rats do in their daily routines. A system of 16 tunnels winds through the habitat both horizontally and vertically, much in the same way mole-rats set up their dens in the wilds of their native Africa.

Visitors will get an inside look into how caretakers look maintain the specific conditions that the mole-rats need to thrive. The heaters and humidifiers that keep the atmosphere inside the tunnels between 80 and 90 degrees with 40 to 70 percent humidity will be on display on the back side of the exhibit. The tunnels on the behind-the-scenes side of the enclosure are clear to show people how to nearly-blind naked mole rats navigate their burrows through their sense of smell, whiskers and sensitivity to vibrations.

Keepers hope that once the colony gets settled in, they will choose a queen — the only breeding female in the group — and begin expanding their colony. The rest of the mole-rats in the colony will be workers.

Aside from the queen, mole-rats are so similar in appearance that the zoo will microchip the animals so that caretakers can tell them apart. One section of tunnels has a chip reader that will relay information about whichever mole-rat last passed through the sensor onto a monitor near the exhibit. If none has passed through the sensor recently, the screen will display facts about the naked mole-rat.

“There is plenty of space and opportunity for this colony to grow,” said Steve Sarro, curator of small mammals. “And we’re hoping that is exactly what will happen, so if you visit several times you’ll be able to see the colony change over time.”

The naked mole-rats will be visible at the Zoo in the Small Animal House every day. The house is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The naked mole-rat webcam will broadcast live footage from the colony 24 hours a day.

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