The energetics of huddling in two species of mole-rat (Rodentia: Bathyergidae)

Physiol Behav. 2008 Jan 28;93(1-2):215-21. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2007.08.016. Epub 2007 Aug 29.


Small rodents with a large surface-area-to-volume ratio and a high thermal conductance are likely to experience conditions where they have to expend large amounts of energy in order to maintain a constant body temperature at low ambient temperatures. The survival of small rodents is thus dependent on their ability to reduce heat loss and increase heat production at low ambient temperatures. Two such animals are the social subterranean rodents Cryptomys damarensis (the Damaraland mole-rat) and Cryptomys hottentotus natalensis (the Natal mole-rat). This study examined the energy savings associated with huddling as a behavioural thermoregulatory mechanism to conserve energy in both these species. Individual oxygen consumption (VO(2)) was measured in groups ranging in size from one to 15 huddling animals for both species at ambient temperatures of 14, 18, 22, 26 and 30 degrees C. Savings in energy (VO(2)) were then compared between the two species. Significant differences in VO(2) (p<0.05) were found within each species, indicating that both Damaraland mole-rats and Natal mole-rats saved more energy in larger as opposed to smaller groups. VO(2) was also different between the two species, with Damaraland mole-rats showing a higher decrease in VO(2) with increasing group size compared to Natal mole-rats. These findings suggest that huddling confers significant energy savings in both species and that the amount of energy saved is related to each species' ecology. More generally, these findings suggest that group living desert-adapted species are likely to be more prone to heat loss at low ambient temperatures than temperate-adapted species, especially at low group sizes. This is presumably offset against the advantages obtained by having a low metabolic rate and avoiding hyperthermia when temperatures are hot.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Group Processes
  • Linear Models
  • Mole Rats / metabolism*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology
  • Social Behavior*
  • Species Specificity