- A colony of naked mole rats has a unique dialect which comes from the queen
- Allows the blind animals to differentiate between colony members and outsiders
- Baby mole rats pick up the accent very quickly in order to communicateWith their wrinkly skin and protruding front teeth, naked mole rats are some of the strangest looking creatures in the animal kingdom.
Now, a new study has revealed that the weird animals also have different languages, which they use to converse with their underground colonies.
Baby mole rats develop the dialect quickly and the colony's queen — the only breeding female — is responsible for creating and maintaining the accent. The collective accent helps nurture a feeling of togetherness and boosts cohesion within the unit, according to the researchers from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in Berlin.
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Naked mole rats spend their lives underground in vast networks of interconnected tunnels and are blind, relying on squeeks, tweets and grunts to communicate.
Researchers set about listening and deciphering the noises made by 166 individuals from seven colonies held in labs in both Berlin and Pretoria, South Africa.
Over two years the researchers recorded a total of 36,190 chirps and an algorithm worked out the acoustic properties of each one.
Lead author Dr Alison Barker said: 'We established each colony has its own dialect.
'The development of a shared dialect strengthens cohesion and a sense of belonging among the naked mole-rats of a specific colony.'
Naked mole rats are native to the dry plains of East Africa, where there is almost always limited food, which the experts believe may have led to xenophobic tendencies.
If an outsider from another colony is introduced, it will be ruthlessly slaughtered.
Within their own colony, however, the rodents work together 'harmoniously,' says Professor Gary Lewin, co-author of the study.
'Each one knows its rank and the tasks it has to perform - and usually accomplishes them reliably.'
A computer program, after an initial training period, was then able to very reliably detect which noise came from which animal.
'What we didn't know, however, was whether the animals could recognise one another from their voices.'
The AI also recognised similarities in the types of sounds made within a single colony, allowing the compute to identify which colony an individual came from.
Dr Barker said: 'That meant that each colony probably had its own distinct dialect.'To investigate the importance of colony-wide accents, the researchers put individual animals in a chamber that was connected to two tubes.
One tube was silent and one was home to other mole rats. If the other mole rats were from the same colony, the individual would immediately give a chirp back.
However, if it was a foreign accent, indicating they were from another colony, the animal stayed mute.
Dr Barker said: 'That enabled us to infer naked mole-rats can recognise their own dialect and will selectively respond to that.'