New Zealand’s Quixotic (Perhaps) Mission to Kill Every One of Its Rats

A rat in a cage in New Zealand.
A rat in a cage in New Zealand.

Thousands of years ago—when humans weren’t a threat to the Earth and invasive species couldn’t stow away on ships, enter foreign lands, and destroy many of the things that made those lands unique and beautiful—all sorts of distinct native birds flourished on the islands that now constitute New Zealand.

Today, more than 40 of those unique species are extinct, thanks to humans. We hunted them, destroyed their habitats, and, maybe most importantly, introduced rats and opossums and stoats—a type of weasel—which slaughtered the birds, many of which, the Associated Press says, “gave up flight altogether to strut about the forest floor.” The 40-odd surviving native bird species struggle on.

Now, the government and activists have come up with a solution: kill all the rats and opossums and stoats, every last one of…

Researchers Discover How the Naked Mole Rat Can Survive 18 Minutes Without Oxygen

Article Image

The African naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is repulsive. It looks like an octogenarian sausage with buck teeth. Mostly found in the horn of Africa, these rodents live in warrens underground, serve a ruling queen, and spend most of their days gathering seeds and edible plants, or digging elaborate tunnels with their protruding front teeth and snouts. They live dozens and sometimes hundreds together and only the queen mates and bears young. In this way, they operate more like ants or bees than mammals.

Turns out these heinous, hairless monstrosities are a scientific marvel in quite a number of ways. For instance, they’re cold-blooded. These mole rats survive much, much longer than any other rodent, around 30 years or so. The naked mole rat doesn’t experience most kinds of pain and might even help us cure cancer. They don’t develop it. When researchers tried to sow cancer within them, they proved resistant.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about them is, they can survive for a long time without oxygen. Now, researchers have found out why. Turns out, they borrow a biochemical process from plants, according to a recent study published in the journal Science. Neuroscientist Thomas Park, a researcher from the University of Illinois-Chicago, told NPR that he and colleagues wanted to know how long the naked mole rat could last without oxygen.

Naked mole rat’s nose in a tunnel.

How naked mole rats survive in low oxygen environments has been a mystery, until now. By Bernard DuPont from France [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

First they stuck four mole rats in a chamber which mimicked a low oxygen environment, one that would kill a mouse in about 15 minutes. Subjects became sluggish but were unfazed otherwise. They were in there for five hours without any trouble. This aspect of their physiology is important for their survival, as in the wild, they spend long period in tunnels where very little oxygen can be had….