Superhero or Super Weird?
Nury Vittachi investigates a rodent with amazing superpowers
AS HUMANITY TEETERS
on the edge of annihilation, take comfort from the fact that some people are staying focused on the really important questions of life, such as: What Superhero Would You Be?
A discussion of that question in a previous column (March 2017) caused a massive flood of emails, both of which included a link to astonishing recent findings about the naked mole rat, a phrase I am NOT using as a metaphor for a certain type of politician, although I do understand how eminently suitable it is for that purpose. No, I am referring to a literal rodent of that name with “awe-inspiring superpowers”, according to reader Janhavi Shan.
First, naked mole rats don’t feel most types of pain so you cannot hurt
them. Tell them they have a stupid haircut or you don’t like their cooking and they go on smiling. Cool.
Second, naked mole rats are preternaturally age-proof, like Jennifer Lopez. After a year or so, the average mouse is using a Zimmer frame and dropping its dentures into its soup. But naked mole rats live for decades, equivalent to a human living for 20 or 30 generations. These critters are the immortals of the rodent world, and must be mightily annoying at woodland dinner parties: “Seems like yesterday I was chatting with your great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great …” [All guests exit.]
Third, naked mole rats have special cells that eat cancer cells. However, getting dreaded diseases is one of a long list of human characteristics that superheroes don’t share. Superfolk also don’t go to toilets, get anxiety-induced bloating or faint at the sight of a blackhead being popped (readers, don’t pretend I’m the only one), etc.
Fourth, naked mole rats can alter their metabolisms in emergencies, surviving for up to 18 minutes without oxygen by “effectively becoming plants”, researchers say. Not sure that’s all that amazing, as every Friday night I find myself surrounded by humans who are effectively becoming vegetables, aided by the consumption of certain popular beverages.
So all in all, naked mole rat abilities get a mixed review as the basis for superpowers. The longevity thing is nice but not much use for a person in tights and a cape who fights bad guys: “You evil supervillains may have used your powers to destroy the city, but I have a longer life expectancy, so there.” Lacks drama.
But the one thing that totally disqualifies it from being part of a superhero origin story is that it looks horrible. Pictures show creatures with pale, flabby, unhealthy-looking bodies, horrible skin and bad teeth, reminding me of beach days spent with my middle-aged male friends.
A colleague raised another issue: “People might refuse to go to the movie, because you can read the name as ‘Naked Mole Rat Man’ or as naked ‘Mole Rat Man’, ” she said.
I decided it was time to avoid that unpleasant thought by effectively becoming a vegetable.
After a year or so, the average mouse is using a Zimmer frame and dropping its dentures into its soup
Nury Vittachi is a Hong Kong-based author. Read his blog at Mrjam.org