Always ethereal, always eclectic, I write as the mood strikes, when there intrigue reveals itself. Usually that means something controversial or adventure of some sort.

I've tried really hard to be unprovocative, but have as yet been unsuccessful.

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Naked Mole Rats

It was on an extremely cold day, hovering just above 0 Celsius, that I headed out to the interview at the Pacific Science Center for their Science on Wheels program. It's a job that I think would be perfect for me- traveling around Washington State, 1-3 weeks at a time, visiting schools and sharing about science. The chance to travel would be great- it's something I dearly miss doing since moving back from Morocco. The part-time position lasts until late May, but is haphazard days, and part-time. But then I heard three days ago that there was a full-time position opening up as well, which would be wonderful- it would pay enough, and it would be a really fun job.

But before I forget- I've now blogged my entire Hawaii trip from the Summer before I began blogging, or What I did with my Professional Development Funds. (Don't tell Barb.)

I think I'm uniquely suited for the job, but the interview was hard. I think I made a good connection, with some nice humor. They wanted me to bring in an item for show-and-tell, and I wanted to bring the Bat Ray skeleton that I had caught, killed, stripped, cleaned, and then treated to harden (as it's all cartilage). But at the last moment I discovered the superglue I'd bought didn't work on the paraffin-treated cartilage. So I went with my clay pig I bought in Morocco instead. It allowed me to discuss my love or pigs, and about pigs, as well as uniquely Moroccan culture, where they can say pigs are haram, forbidden, but wild pigs are okay to hunt and eat, with even the King hunting them, though they are the same species as domestic pigs, Sus scrofa.

But that wasn't the hardest part of the interview- there were numerous other aspects, one in particular, that I'm guessing are proprietary so I won't repeat them. I'd really love to get the position, but it remains to be seen if they feel I am the best candidate for it or not. I'll hear back later this month.

But afterwards I got to take a trip through the Science Center, something I'd neglected to do last time I was there to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. It was actually more instructional than I'd realized; I'd always imagined the PSC was more of a natural history museum. (Sorry- as I was not expecting to visit the Center, so no pics.) Everywhere there are interactive hands-on exhibits and shows, like live boa constrictors, insects (far too many gigantic live cockroaches from South America), the world's largest electric guitar, and animatronic dinosaurs. Very fun was a hurricane wind booth that lets you experience winds up to 78 mph, for that classic wind blown look.

Two exhibits I'd highlight as especially interesting. The first was the Butterfly House. That's gotta be the coolest job at the Science Center. It's a small room, warm, humid, with hundreds of butterflies fluttering everywhere around you. You can come up close and easily identify them, watching as they feed on oranges and banana skins. I saw Monarchs there easily enough too. If you're patient enough, they'll come and alight on you, so you have to be de-butterflied when you leave. And one has to watch their step, as they sit on the ground drinking from the puddles.

Then later on, the most wicked exhibit of all, the naked mole rats! They have a live colony there, all crawling around these giant plastic tubes, so you can see what it's like for them when they live underground in E Africa. Naked Mole Rats are not rats, moles, or naked. They look naked however- their small sensory hairs are hard to identify. Think a Canadian Hairless Cat, but smaller. They chew through the ground using two large buck teeth, with lips closed behind the teeth so no dirt can get in. They work together to remove dirt, passing it back behind them to the next mole rat, ala The Great Escape. Indeed, they are famous in the animal kingdom for being the only eusocial mammals. Like bees, they have only one breeding female queen, and the rest of the "hive" then supports her, working in various capacities as male breeders, guards, or diggers. They are also unique in being the only ectotherms, incapable of maintaining an internal body temperature and relying on warm and cold areas of their burrows to do that for them.

It was just really neat to sit there watching them as about 40 mole rats climbed around their tubes, trying to identify the queen who has a longer backbone than the rest. (When she dies another female develops a longer backbone and becomes queen.) Sometimes one mole rat would come up to the edge where a guard mole rat was, and there would be a bit of a scuffle between them. Evidently this helps prepare the mole rats in case their burrows are attacked. (They're not aware that this possibility is no longer likely in the Pacific Science Center.) Sometimes one would be going one way, and come to three going the other way, and they would all push against each other and tumble against each other. Occasionally this would result in a small one getting on it's back, pitifully mewing out until it righted itself. And threw this all there is a persistent scratching, like something out of Poe or a horror movie. It is the mole rats slowly chewing threw concrete blocks, provided for them to wear down their teeth on- but they think it's the last area of their burrow that needs to be expanded.

3 comments:

drh said...

Would it be haram to steal one of the naked mole rats from the Pacific Science Center and use it as your show-and-tell exhibit?

Anonymous said...

I loved this tale of naked mole rats and taking the time to really observe animal behavior (I also like to do so in restaurants and parks, where nakedness is covered externally, but still, much is revealed.
Hope you get that job. Your skills at observation and teaching are amazing. Love, Mom

@bdul muHib said...

You saw clothed naked mole rats in restaurants?

Sadly, I got the call last night. They said they found some folks who had more experience in elementary school.