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Responses to Pup Vocalizations in Subordinate Naked Mole-Rats are Induced by Estradiol Ingested through Coprophagy of Queen’s Feces

Penelitian - In a colony of naked mole-rats (Heterocephalus glaber), instead of a single breeding female (the queen) nursing alone, sexually immature members (subordinates) show positive alloparental pup care.

Their response to pup vocalizations is not continuous, but rather is enhanced during the queen’s postpartum period through consumption of the pregnant queen’s feces. Furthermore, oral ingestion of the pregnant queen’s feces also induces an increase in the subordinates’ estradiol concentrations.

Penelitian Responses to Pup Vocalizations in Subordinate Naked Mole-Rats are Induced by Estradiol Ingested through Coprophagy of Queen’s Feces

Because subordinates’ responses to pup vocalizations were enhanced through the ingestion of nonpregnant queen’s feces amended with estradiol. However, the physiological mechanisms underlying alloparental behavior of nonbreeders remains undetermined

“We concluded that estradiol is the substance that enhances their responses to pup vocalizations in naked mole-rats. Moreover, these results suggest that naked mole-rats communicate the substance between the queen and subordinates through coprophagy,” said Akiyuki Watarai of the Azabu University at Sagamihara, Japan.

“We examined the response of subordinates to pup voice and the fecal estradiol concentrations of subordinates during the three reproductive periods of the queen, including gestation, postpartum, and nonlactating,” said Watarai.

Subordinate response to pup voice was observed only during the queen’s postpartum and was preceded by an incremental rise in subordinates’ fecal estradiol concentrations during the queen’s gestation period, which coincided with physiological changes in the queen.

The researchers hypothesized that the increased estradiol in the queen’s feces was disseminated to subordinates through coprophagy, which stimulated subordinates’ responses to pup vocalizations. To test this hypothesis, Watarai and colleagues fed subordinates either fecal pellets from pregnant queens or pellets from nonpregnant queens amended with estradiol for 9 days and examined their response to recorded pup voice.



“We believe that we have identified a previously unknown system of communication in naked mole-rats, in which a hormone released by one individual controls the behavior of another individual and influences the level of responsiveness among subordinate adults to pup vocal signals, thereby contributing to the alloparental pup care by subordinates,” Watarai said.

Journal : Akiyuki Watarai et al. Responses to pup vocalizations in subordinate naked mole-rats are induced by estradiol ingested through coprophagy of queen’s feces, PNAS, August 27, 2018, DOI:10.1073/pnas.1720530115

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