Sir David Attenborough on Mole Rats

David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities Producer Stephen Dunleavy interviews Sir David regarding his exciting new natural history series, exclusive to Eden.


Stephen Dunleavy

"When we started researching the things across the series we were looking at elephants’ wrinkly skin, but we also looked at mole rats – a creature on a completely different scale but interesting in its own right because they share this feature with the elephant. I remember we had to go and film mole rats and I was quite taken by these creatures!"

David Attenborough's Natural Curiosities

Sir David Attenborough

"They are quite the most disgusting animal! Actually, they are amazingly fascinating. They are long, like a sausage, and they are absolutely naked! They are blind and have incisor teeth, one of which arches down from the top and the other which arches down from the bottom. They gnaw their way tunnels underground in Kenya to dig to look for roots on which they live. As you can see that would mean that as they gnaw earth, if they’re not very careful, they would swallow it! But these teeth are so huge that their mouth meets behind so the animal can gnaw with its mouth shut, which is quite a trick!

Not only that but they live in communities very much like bees, termites and some of the nesting ants. So, there can be a community of 30, 40 or 50 individuals, but only one female who breeds just like a queen bee. All the rest of the community of females look after the queen, but don’t produce young themselves at all. So this is very much like a bee community, except instead of insects it’s mammals.

There can be a community of 30, 40 or 50 individuals, but only one female who breeds just like a queen bee.

But the amazing thing is that a little rodent that size, about the size of a rat which lives three four years at the most, can live up to forty years! It is absolutely extraordinary why they would have this longevity! Now some of the research that has been done is to look at the signs of ageing. What is it in our bodies that as we get older makes us get wrinkled skin? Experiments on the mole rat can give us a clue as to what the processes are that make us age and maybe even ways we can deal with that."

Next: Attenborough on Platypus