Richard G. Petty, MD

Lazy Mole-Rats

No, this is not a term of abuse. But I’m not sure whether I should tell you about some research from South Africa that seems to give lazy teenagers a ready made excuse.

A new study in the journal Nature reports that laziness exists outside the bedrooms of American teenagers. The research involved the subterranean Damaraland mole-rat, a small burrowing little creature native to the Kalahari Desert. It turns out that these little fur balls have an interesting social structure, in which only one female (the Queen) and one or two males reproduce. The technical term for this is a “eusocial organization.” You will be familiar with it in ants, termites and some bees and wasps. But this kind of social setup seems to be unique amongst mammals.

Dr. Michael Scantlebury and Professor Nigel Bennett from the University of Pretoria studied the energy demands of these little critters.

In a mole-rat colony, there are industrious animals that are active all year round and perform more than 95 percent of the work, including digging barrows, looking for food and raising the offspring. Meanwhile, up to 40 percent of the colony is fat and lazy. This slothful group does virtually no work, but requires food from their comrades. The lazy moles in fact are not degenerating or living an unhealthy lifestyle.

They are waiting.

“For what??” may you ask. Well, they have been busy at something else: building up of their fat stores. It does not rain much in the Kalahari, but when it does the energy expenditure of the previously fat and lazy mole-rats skyrockets. Now digging is easier and there are new opportunities to disperse and reproduce. So the lazy mole-rats are on standby, ready to invade new territories when the opportunity arises and snaffling food during the lean times. As one of my colleagues put it: “So you’re telling me that the layabouts are actually contributing to the survival of the species?” Sad to say, that seems to be about it.

Indeed Michael Scantlebury had this to say: “Imagine the infrequent workers are like teenagers. They do nothing around the house and they eat all your food. Yet you tolerate them because they are your only way to spread your genes into the wider world.”

Come to think of it, maybe I shouldn’t blog about this study…

You may also be interested to know that Nature is now publishing a weekly podcast discussing papers published in the journal this week. You can find it here.

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About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

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