The greater blind mole-rat, Spalax golani, is a species of rodent in the family Spalacidae. This small nocturnal animal lives underground in tunnels and chambers, living off roots, tubers, insects, worms, and sometimes even vertebrates such as fish and frogs. They are found mainly in central Asia and southern Europe, where they live in dry steppes and semi-desert regions.
They are closely related to the lesser blind mole-rat (Spalax microphthalmus), which differs in having a shorter snout and being slightly larger.
The greater blind mole rat is tailless. It is about 20–25 mm long and weighs 470–570 g. The body length varies according to sex and age; females reach 30–35 mm, while males do not exceed 25 mm. The head is small, broad and rounded, with large ears. The snout is short, blunt and slightly flattened towards the tip. The muzzle is relatively wide and the nostrils are located close together. The eyes are covered by skin membranes and have shrunken lens cells enclosed in a vitreous chamber and a retina. The upper jaw bears one pair of incisors, while the lower jaw bears three pairs. A single, sharp molar tooth protrudes from each side of the mouth. The tail is very slender, tapering gradually towards the end, where it tapers into a fine brush. The coat is greyish, but it can vary in colour, ranging from pale brown to dark brown. There are no hairs present on the face. The hairless skin is thickened around the anus. The hind feet are webbed, and there are five toes on each foot, except for the third toe, which is absent. The naked pads are oval shaped and bear numerous tubercles. The soles of the feet are black, and the claws are thin, curved and pointed. The greater blind mole rats live underground in colonies, usually under rocks or tree roots, in tunnels measuring 3–8 m (10–26 ft) in diameter and up to 2 km (1 mi) long. They feed mainly on earthworms, beetles and insects, but also eat plant matter such as seeds, leaves and flowers. They breed throughout the year, although breeding peaks during the rainy season. Females give birth to litters of four to six young every two months. The gestation period lasts 90 days. The litter consists of one male and three to four female offspring. After weaning, the pups remain with their mother for eight weeks. At this stage, the mother starts searching for her mate again. She seeks out another colony of blind mole rats, and mates with them. The mating occurs underground. The copulation takes place in a tunnel with a temperature of 15 °C (59 °F). The newborn blind mole rats are born with open eyes and are fully developed within 10 days. The young begin to explore the world above ground after approximately 40 days. The lifespan of the adult individual is about one year.
Distribution and habitat
The greater blind mole-rat occurs throughout much of temperate Eurasia. In Asia it ranges from Mongolia and China east across Siberia and into central and western Russia; further west it reaches Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Israel and Egypt. In Africa it is found in Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia.
In Europe it occurs throughout most of Western Europe except Ireland and Scandinavia, reaching France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Kosovo, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, Singapore, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Kiribati, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Cook Islands, Tokelau, Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia, Easter Island, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
The greater blind mole-rat belongs to the family Bathyergidae, and is one of the most primitive mammals known. Its closest living relatives are probably the naked mole rat and the Damaraland mole-rat. Fossils show that it lived in Africa during the Eocene epoch, about 50 million years ago. In contrast to many other rodents, it does not hibernate. Instead, it spends most of the winter sleeping and eating. During the summer, however, it emerges into the open air to feed on plant material.
Like most subterranean mammals, the greater blind mole-rat uses echolocation to navigate its tunnels. Unlike other mole-rats, however, it has no whiskers, and therefore cannot feel objects directly. Instead, it detects vibrations in the ground caused by prey or predators nearby. This allows it to detect even very small animals moving around aboveground.
Its diet consists mainly of roots, stems and tubers, although some seeds and fruits are eaten too. A study published in 2007 found that it could eat up to 3% of its body weight daily. However, its digestive system is not well developed, and it must spend considerable energy chewing each mouthful, reducing its ability to store fat. As a result, it gains less weight than expected from feeding on high-energy diets. Nevertheless, it manages to survive on low-quality food because it stores large amounts of carbohydrates in its liver and muscles.
It is thought that the greater blind mole-rats’ ancestors became adapted to life underground, and that they lost the ability to see due to changes in their visual systems. They now rely entirely on hearing and smell to find food.
Blind mole-rats are rodents native to Africa. They are called blind because they lack eyes; however, they do possess a well developed sense of smell. They live underground, feeding on roots and tubers, and reproduce by giving birth to litters containing anywhere from one to 12 young. Their gestation period lasts around 21 days. Blind mole rats are classified into three subspecies: Heterocephalus glaber glaber, H. g. intermedius, and H. g. chrysogaster. These subspecies differ in coloration and size. The IUCN lists the global population of the species as being stable.
The greater blind mole rat is considered to be a fairly common species throughout much of its range. However, it is patchy in distribution, and there are several isolated populations where it is rare or absent altogether. The International Union for Conservation Of Nature has listed the greater blind mole rat as being of least concern, meaning that although it is likely facing some threats, they are not severe enough to warrant listing under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.