The queen is dead! Long live . . . the queen!
So says one naked mole rat to another. While this sounds like the start of a joke, it’s an apt description of several fascinating facts. First, naked mole rats live in underground colonies. Second, like bees, these colonies have a breeding queen and many workers. And third, every colony speaks in a unique dialect, determined by the queen herself!
A study highlighted the relationship between mole rat royalty and language. Naked mole rats are social creatures, but they don’t tolerate strangers, preferring the familiarity of their specific colony. Since mole rats are nearly blind, they rely on vocal communication. One vocalization, called the “soft chirp,” is a type of greeting. Once spoken, it tells the listening naked mole rats if the speaker is fellow citizen, or invader.
Researchers listened to more than thirty-six thousand soft chirps from mole rats in seven different colonies. Paying attention to qualities such as a chirp’s pitch and duration, they identified the unique characteristics of each colony’s dialect. The naked mole rats were loyal subjects of their separate monarchies: when the scientists played back recordings of chirps, these perceptive rodents only responded to the dialect of their colony.But loyalties can change. During the study, two queens were ousted. Their presence had made the colony’s dialect cohesive; when they died, the dialect’s characteristics became inconsistent. The rules of language were meaningless! Anarchy reigned! When a new queen ascended the throne, however, a new dialect formed. While the precise influence of sovereign mole rats on dialect formation is still vague, one thing is certain: what the queen says, goes.