Behavioural responses to environmental hypercapnia in two eusocial species of African mole rats

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2018 Oct;204(9-10):811-819. doi: 10.1007/s00359-018-1283-z. Epub 2018 Sep 1.


Damaraland and naked mole rat are eusocial mammals that live in crowded burrows in which CO2 is elevated. These species are thought to be highly tolerant of CO2 but their behavioural responses to hypercapnia are poorly understood. We hypothesized that Damaraland and naked mole rats would exhibit blunted behavioural responses to hypercapnia and predicted that their activity levels would be unaffected at low to moderate (2-5%) CO2 but increased at > 7% CO2. To test this, we exposed Damaraland and naked mole rats to stepwise increases in environmental CO2 (0-10%) and measured activity, exploratory behaviour, and body temperature. Surprisingly, we found that both species exhibited no differences in movement velocity, distance travelled, zone transitions (exploration), or body temperature at any level of environmental hypercapnia. Conversely, when carbonic anhydrase was inhibited with acetazolamide (50 mg kg-1 intraperitonially, to increase whole-animal acidosis), exploration was significantly elevated relative to hypercapnic controls in both species at all levels of inhaled CO2, and naked mole rat body temperature decreased in > 7% CO2. We conclude that both species are largely non-responsive to environmental CO2, and that this tolerance may be dependent on bicarbonate buffering at the level of the kidney or within the blood.

Keywords: Acetazolamide; Bicarbonate; Body temperature; Exploration; Thermoregulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization
  • Acetazolamide / pharmacology
  • Acid-Base Equilibrium
  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal* / drug effects
  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism*
  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Exploratory Behavior* / drug effects
  • Female
  • Hypercapnia / metabolism
  • Hypercapnia / psychology*
  • Locomotion* / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mole Rats / metabolism
  • Mole Rats / psychology*
  • Social Behavior
  • Time Factors


  • Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Acetazolamide