Behavioural responses of naked mole rats to acute hypoxia and anoxia

Biol Lett. 2017 Dec;13(12):20170545. doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2017.0545.


Naked mole rats (NMRs) are among the most hypoxia-tolerant mammals. Other species respond to hypoxia by either escaping the hypoxic environment or drastically decreasing behavioural activity and body temperature (Tb) to conserve energy. However, NMRs rarely leave their underground burrows, which are putatively hypoxic and thermally stable near the NMRs' preferred Tb Therefore, we asked whether NMRs are able to employ behavioural and thermoregulatory strategies in response to hypoxia despite their need to remain active and the minimal thermal scope in their burrows. We exposed NMRs to progressively deeper levels of hypoxia (from 21 to 0% O2) while measuring their behaviour and Tb Behavioural activity decreased 40-60% in hypoxia and Tb decreased slightly in moderate hypoxia (5-9%) and then further with deeper hypoxia (3% O2). However, even at 3% O2 NMRs remained somewhat active and warm, and continued to explore their environment. Remarkably, NMRs were active for greater than 90 s in acute anoxia and Tb and metabolic rate decreased rapidly. We conclude that NMRs are adapted to remain awake and functional even at the extremes of their hypoxia-tolerance. This adaptation likely reflects variable and challenging levels of environmental hypoxia in the natural habitat of this species.

Keywords: body temperature; hypoxia-tolerant; metabolic rate depression.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Animals
  • Basal Metabolism
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Mole Rats / physiology
  • Mole Rats / psychology*
  • Movement / physiology