Naked mole-rats definitely rank as some of the most bizarre animals in the world. They live underground in insect-like societies, don't experience pain from acid, and their appearance... well, their appearance speaks for itself. Now scientists have identified another unusual trait of these blind, geriatric-looking rodents: they can survive without oxygen for surprisingly long amounts of time, reports

"This is just the latest remarkable discovery about the naked mole-rat — a cold-blooded mammal that lives decades longer than other rodents, rarely gets cancer, and doesn't feel many types of pain," said Thomas Park, professor of biological sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who led the study.

The ability to survive without oxygen is certainly interesting, but what's truly extraordinary is how naked mole-rats do it. They become more like plants than animals, by metabolizing fructose.

Normally when an animal is deprived of oxygen, its heart and brain and other critical systems starve within minutes. But naked mole-rats can keep these systems running by pouring fructose into their bloodstreams. The fructose is transported into brain cells by molecular fructose pumps that in all other known mammals are found only on cells of the intestine.

"The naked mole-rat has simply rearranged some basic building-blocks of metabolism to make it super-tolerant to low oxygen conditions," said Park.

Researchers found that the rodents could stay alive for hours under low-oxygen conditions that would kill most mammals within minutes. This super-trait is likely an adaptation to the animals' harsh underground lifestyle, where oxygen often drops to dangerously low levels. The burrows of naked mole-rats are unlike those of many other kinds of subterranean animals in that they are unventilated and crowded with other colony members that are competing for the same limited air supply.

Bryan Nelson ( @@brynelson ) writes about everything from environmental problems here on Earth to big questions in space.

Naked mole-rats essentially turn into plants when oxygen is low
Naked mole-rats are resilient mammals that can survive for hours in conditions that would kill humans in minutes.