Mole-Rats Talk Too
Posted: May 1, 2021
Dogs bark and howl, yip and growl. Cats purr, snarl, spit, mew, and hiss to get a point across. Believe it or not, some rodents talk too. Naked mole-rats are bizarre rodents that have their own family languages or dialects.
Naked mole-rats are native to east Africa. (And no, they aren’t actually naked.) They have tiny sensory hairs all over their bodies. Mole-rats aren’t blind or deaf. But they don’t see or hear well. What they are good at is talking. These rodents use their voices to survive.
Mole-rats live underground in family groups called colonies. Each colony may have hundreds of relatives. They work together to dig and defend tunnels and find food. Their chirps help them recognize family members and coordinate underground activities year after year.
Scientists notice that naked mole-rats make different sounds to keep their community close together. In a new study, scientists recorded over 36,000 chirps from mole-rats in four different colonies. The scientists used a computer to study the sounds. The computer was able to figure out which animal made each chirp. It could also tell which of the four families that animal was likely from. That is because mole-rat families speak the same dialect. A dialect is a form of a language used by a specific group. (People have dialects. When you speak to a group, do you say “you,” “you guys,” or “y’all”? Your word choice is part of your dialect.)
When a mole-rat chirp was played through a loudspeaker, other mole-rats chirped back if the sound came from a family member. They recognized their own colony’s version of mole-rat language.
Mole-rats are fiercely protective of their families. They don’t accept members of other mole-rat colonies. God gave mole-rat family members the ability to identify each other by dialect.
Mole-rat dialects sound like chirps to human ears. But their language skills are valuable. And that can remind us that our own words are valuable too. Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”