case of natural queen succession in a captive colony of naked mole-rats, Heterocephalus glaber

  • L.A. van der Westhuizen
  • J.U.M. Jarvis
  • N.C. Bennett
Keywords: naked mole-rat, Heterocephalus glaber, luteinizing hormone, queen, reproductive replacement, succession.


Naked mole-rats occur in large colonies where usually a single queen monopolizes reproduction. Queen succession occurs from within usually as a result of aggressive encounters with subordinate females that queue for reproductive succession following colony instability, which inevitably results in death of either the queen or the challenging conspecific. We monitored a queen succession following the death of the breeding male in a colony of the naked mole-rat, Heterocephalus glaber, prior to, during as well as after replacement of the original breeding female. The response of the pituitary luteotrophs was investigated in the non-reproductive females during this period of instability by the administration of endogenous gonadotrophin releasing hormone (GnRH) and evaluating the subsequent luteinising hormone (LH) response in the blood. Larger and older non-breeding females engaged in aggressive encounters that culminated in death. The new breeding successor which arose from within the colony was a large female who continued to procreate. The six  non-breeding females that were killed during reproductive takeover were larger and older females which exhibited elevated basal circulating LH concentrations as well as increased pituitary sensitivity as measured by the amount of releasable LH to an exogenous GnRH challenge. By contrast, non-breeding females that survived the succession were smaller and younger animals with reduced basal and GnRH challenged LH concentrations. Likewise, five non-breeding males which were heavier and older than those non-breeding males which survived were killed. These animals did not, however, show elevated basal or exogenous GnRH challenged LH  concentrations when compared to the surviving males. The non-breeding animals of both sexes which survived the reproductive takeover event represented individuals which posed a minimal threat to the new successor and hence promoted the continuation of the marked reproductive skew that is prevalent in this highly inbred colonial subterranean hystricomorph.

Key words: naked mole-rat, Heterocephalus glaber, luteinizing hormone, queen, reproductive replacement, succession.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 2224-073X
print ISSN: 1562-7020