Cryptomys Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything


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Cryptomys are small creatures1 of the mole rat family, closely related to the Bathyergidae, and Rodentia families. They have a strange outer appearance, like a Bratwurst with brown or grey fur and two big teeth at the front.

Some of these creatures were taken out of Africa 15 years ago and are undergoing study in Essen, Germany. Take care of your fingers, but also take care of your heart; these little African beasts can steal it.

The University of Essen is where these particular Cryptomys live. What is so special about these mole rats is their eusociality2. The queen and king rule over a more or less huge family of children and/or sisters and brothers which don't reproduce but take care of the litter. It is weird to see insect-like behaviour in mammals. They spend most of the day playing with paper, building tunnels or sleeping, one lying on the other. For lunch they prefer carrots, potatoes, bananas, apples, and greens and a special kind of rodent food, orange and green in colour, which they do actually fight for.

As far as is known, they split up into these species:

  • Cryptomys mechowi (the biggest ones) 2n3=40
  • Cryptomys anselli 2n=68
  • Cryptomys kafuensis 2n=58

The University is interested in their behaviour, so they are not killed for experiments. The caretakers try to make their captivity as comfortable as possible for them and it is hoped that they feel well. Their reproductive rate seems to tell us that they do.

1Not usually heavier than 600g.2Eusocial: 'denoting social organisms (eg the honeybee) in which a single female or caste produces the offspring and non-reproductive individuals cooperate in caring for the young' - Oxford English Dictionary.3The 2n refers to the diploid number of chromosomes, ie the diploid (2n) of humans is 46. This is the number before the process of meiosis, which reduces this number in half (n).

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