The bathyergid mole-rats provide a unique example of a family of subterranean rodents exhibiting a broad spectrum of sociality. Three genera comprise solitary, strongly territorial individuals whereas two genera are social. This sociality culminates in the eusocial naked mole-rat, Heterocephalus glaber. The pups of solitary mole-rats disperse, establish and thereafter defend their own burrow systems when approximately two months old, whereas those of social genera join an established natal colony. This paper examines whether these different lifestyles are reflected in the early development and rate of growth of pups of mole-rats.
Although the trends are not clear-cut, it is apparent that the pups of solitary genera grow and mature more rapidly than those from social genera. Thus, the growth rate constant (K) for the first70–80 days of postnatal growth (using the Gompertz equation) for the solitary genera was between 0.042 and 0.052 day−1, whereas that of the social mole-rats was considerably lower (0.01 5 day−1). Similarly the mean growth rates of solitary genera ranged between 3.3 and 1.227g/day while those of the social mole-rats were 0.229-0.233 g/day.
The pattern of development and the rates of growth in solitary bathyergids are similar to those of other solitary subterranean rodents. One interesting feature common to all the social genera studied to date was that the first pups recruited to a ‘new colony’, consisting of a reproductive pair of adult mole-rats, grew at a significantly faster rate than pups born to an established colony.