AFRICAN MOLE-RATS – Bathyergidae



African mole-rats are small to medium-sized rodents with streamlined bodies 3.2 to 11.0 inches (83 to 281 millimeters) in length and with a weight of 1.2 to 31.0 ounces (34 to 896 grams). African mole-rats bodies are covered in hair that is thick and short, except for one species. They have robust heads, small eyes, very small ears, and flattened pig-like noses. The stiff hairs are thicker on the front of the face and around the eyes. Their necks are muscular so there is not much change in size from their head to body and their limbs are short giving their bodies an overall cylindrical appearance. On the outer edges of their hind feet and on their short tail they also have stiff hairs, except for one species. They also have stiff hairs that are used for touching that are scattered all over their bodies. Under their loose skin they have long, strong muscles. The African mole-rats have large, ever growing, white incisors, sharp-edged teeth which are flat, in the front of the mouth used for cutting and tearing food.


African mole-rats are found in sub-Saharan Africa.


African mole-rats inhabit dry regions such as savannas, or flat grasslands, and open woodlands. The rodents are not found in dense forests. They are usually found in areas with plants that provide an underground food source such as bulbs, tubers, and rootstalks. African mole-rats live in burrow systems consisting of a complicated network of foraging tunnels. The tunnels usually include a deeper nest complex with an area for relieving bodily waste, and usually one or more food storage areas. The surface opening is sealed except when dug-out soil is taken out.


They eat bulbs, tubers, and corms, the underground stem base of plants such as the crocus or gladiolus. Food is either eaten when it is found or brought back to a central storage area near the nest. Large food sources are often left to grow, and eaten on from time to time.


African mole-rats are considered by experts to show the widest range in social structure of all mammals. They are solitary rodents, and spend much of their time underground. Almost all species dig by biting the soil with their large incisor teeth or in one genus (JEE-nus), a group of animals with similar characteristics, by loosening soil with strongly developed forefeet. Muscular lips with strong hairs keep soil out of the mouth. The loosened soil is pushed under their bodies with their forefeet and then collected and kicked behind them with their hind feet until it is kicked out of the surface opening.

Courtship and mating activities are short encounters between a male and female. Pups at about two months of age begin to make their own burrows. Colonies of social African mole-rats have divisions of labor for reproductive activities. A single female, the queen, and a few chosen males do the mating. Remaining members, who are related to the breeders, are helpers. They remain members of the colony unless environmental conditions allow them to go out on their own or if a breeder dies. If the breeding female dies, some of the oldest females in the colony become sexually active and often fight for the highest position of breeding female. The gestation period, the amount of time the offspring is in the womb, is forty-four to 100 days. Litter, a group of young animals born at the same time from the same mother, size is from less than four up to twenty-eight, depending on the species.


African mole-rats are considered pests in farmlands and in urban developments. Their burrows often damage roads, airport runways, and other such structures. They can also chew through underground cables, irrigation pipes, and other human-made objects.


One species of African mole-rat is listed as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild, and six species are listed as Data Deficient, meaning there is not enough information available to decide their status.