I washed the daikon, burdock, carrot and other root vegetables and cut them into bite-sized pieces. I scooped everything into a bowl and brought it to the naked mole rat nest box in the breeding center. They usually live in burrows underground, but at the present were doing quite well in a complicated network of glass tunnels.
I opened hatch to the feeding area and emptied the contents of the bowl inside. Hearing the sound of tumbling food, the mole rats hurried through the tunnels to feed. As subterranean creatures, they have poor eyesight and are sensitive to sounds and vibrations.
They were all completely hairless and resembled wrinkly sausages or ham with stubby legs. In order to easily identify the worker rats, the sides of their bodies were labeled in permanent ink with numbers from P1 through P31 in order of birth. The ‘P’ meant that they were property of the public office, but we also said it was because they were little porkers1.
As the workers started eating, a naked mole rat twice their size appeared. It bumped into P8 coming in the other direction in one of the tunnels, but continued forward as if nothing were there. P8 scrabbled desperately for a foothold, but was flattened as the big mole rat walked right over it.
The big mole rat was Sarami, the queen of the nest. She was a darker red than the workers and had white and brown spots on her body, making her look like a salami sausage, hence her name.
Three mole rats labeled ♂1 through ♂3 followed behind her. Since there were few fertile males in a colony, these three were not required to gather food or protect the nest. Their only duty was to mate with Sarami to produce more mole rats, even though they are originally Sarami’s sons.
When Sarami approached the feeding areas, all the workers moved aside to let her through. Queen Sarami and her beloved sons had the first pick of the meal.
It’s rare to find an animal whose appearance and behavior makes you feel so depressed. And even though I’d developed some compassion for the naked mole rats as I looked after them, I couldn’t help disliking them every time I noticed how similar they were to their cousins, the queerats.
And therein lies the question. What in the world were people of the past thinking when they decided to selectively breed these ugly creatures to the point of having near-human intelligence?
Granted, other than naked mole rats, there were no mammals that exhibited eusocial behaviors like that of a worker bee obeying its queen. But if all they wanted was an animal to subjugate and use as servants, I could think of a number of more appealing animals. For example, if they wanted subterranean animals, meerkats were much friendlier and easier on the eyes.
Anyway, raising naked mole rats was my job, whether I liked it or not. But it was not my main duty. My real responsibility was the investigation and regulation of queerats in the Exospecies Control Division of the Department of Health in Hayring.