Our colony of furless friends has admirers around the world thanks to two naked mole rat cams streaming their eusocial antics 24/7.
A fan who recently came all the way from California’s Monterey Bay area just to meet the naked mole rats was not disappointed. “It sounds silly, but it was definitely a highlight for my life,” says Laura Lettunich.
She started corresponding with us several months ago when, while watching the naked mole rats cams, she noticed a smaller naked mole rat having trouble. The subject line of her plaintive email: Help the one stuck in the tube!
“Every time he would crawl up the tube, he would fall back,” she says. “He was kind of skinny. I started rooting him on: C’mon! You can make it! Oh no! He’d fall back down again. I worried: Is he sick? Is he maimed? Is he injured? Is he in need of help?
“I’m the liaison between the disabled office at our college and financial aid. I’m taking classes to get a teaching certificate to work with infants and toddlers with special needs. In my mind, it all goes together to see little critters who look a little different sometimes struggling so hard just to do normal things.”
We reassured Lettunich the naked mole rat wasn’t hurt or ill and that climbing up the tube was a difficult, but not impossible feat. “One thing I always tell people is that it’s exercise and a challenge,” says Life Sciences Manager Sarah Moore. “I ask adults if they’ve ever used a treadmill. I ask kids if they’ve ever gone the wrong way on an escalator just for fun.”
Inside the tube, there’s a ladder that the naked mole rats often flip over, rendering it much harder to use. They always have the option of turning around and going back to the ground. There is never anything on the upper level that they actually need to get to. The addition of a second story, and the presence of the ladder at all, is part of enrichment for them. Here’s a long blog post about how and why we provide challenge and stimulation for our colony. Lettunich was reassured. “Watching that poor mole rat struggle was just sensitive for me, but I won’t worry anymore unless I see zombies attacking them. ;-)”
Lettunich says she doesn’t remember exactly when she fell in love with the naked mole rats. “It’s been years. I’ve been watching that cam the whole time. (We installed the naked mole rat cams about two years ago.) I was just looking for something I could get myself lost in. I work with special needs adults and kids and life can be intense. I needed something cute and cuddly.
Animal cams have been a passion for Lettunich for at least three or four years. A hawk cam. An eagle cam. Koala cams in Australia. “It’s not like you can go and visit all the animals, but I feel like I know them better if I watch their cams.” She also does internet research about the animals she watches. The naked mole rats are her favorites because they hang out in a mob, they’re never still and they look completely content to be in a huge snuggly huddle.
When Lettunich’s daughter was young (she’s now 40), they raised rats and hamsters and “just” critters. “She and I have always had an affinity for smaller creatures. I just think they’re the most adorable things in the world.” Lettunich keeps the naked mole rat cams running in the background of her computer screen. “My friends all think I am totally insane for my interest, but I’m insanely busy and the naked mole rats keep my mind occupied in a calm way.”
Last year, after Lettunich had a difficult Valentine’s Day, she promised herself to never have a bad Valentine’s Day again. She called her grown daughter, who now lives in Ocean Shores, WA, and planned a Valentine’s Day visit with the grandchildren. Then, she realized the naked mole rats live in Seattle, just a few hours drive from Ocean Shores. Instead of going to Ocean Shores by flying into Portland, she booked a flight for Seattle and arrived at Pacific Science Center when the doors opened at 10 a.m.
Since this was a very special visit, Lead Animal Caretaker Lauren Bloomenthal met with Lettunich, personally introduced her to the colony, showed how the naked mole rats are fed, and shared information about the naked mole rats’ behaviors, physiology and environment. “Lauren was wonderful,” Lettunich wrote. “It sounds silly, but it was definitely a highlight for my life. Seeing Lauren with all the children watching was amazing. Her enthusiasm had them asking questions and learning and you could tell they loved it. Thank you thank you thank you. I’ll be back. Not as soon as I like but soon. I am seriously thinking of relocating to Washington and part of the reason is Pacific Science Center.”