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Pup Shoving by Adult Naked Mole-Rats


Paul W. Sherman, Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, Mudd Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853, USA. E-mail:


Adult naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber) characteristically perform an unusual behavior toward young: they shove small pups frequently and vigorously around the nest. We studied 15 litters in five captive colonies to quantify which adults shove pups, changes in shoving frequencies as pups develop, how external disturbances affect pup-shoving frequencies, and behavior of juveniles that were not shoved as pups. In all litters and colonies the breeding female shoved pups significantly more often than any other individual. Breeding females also shoved adult colony mates, but at far lower rates than they shoved pups. Breeding males shoved pups about half as often as did breeding females. Together, the parents shoved pups ten times more often than did nonbreeders. Frequencies of pup shoving peaked when pups were 3–4 wk old, roughly coincident with weaning. When colonies were disturbed experimentally, frequencies of pup shoving increased dramatically, whereas rates at which nonbreeding adults were shoved decreased sharply. We separated four newly-weaned litters and raised half the pups apart from their colony. When these litters were reunited 4–9 wk later, the unshoved (experimental) pups were the same size as the frequently shoved (control) pups, but the unshoved pups were significantly less likely to flee from a disturbance. Shoving of small pups encourages them to flee from danger, and also may enforce weaning.