Doctor Chris Faulkes, who has been working with them almost every day for the last 25 years, has long since learned to love naked mole rats, but, as he concedes, since they are "pretty much blind and live underground in the dark, they are not necessarily naturally selecting on good looks."

We are talking in Faulkes' lab at Queen Mary University in the East End of London, surrounded on all sides by his home-made rat-run of Perspex tubing in which 70 or so naked mole rats — each between 10 cm and 20 cm long — are scurrying, climbing over and under one another, backing up and beetling forward, worrying at anything in their path with their protruding incisors, teeth that they can move independently like chopsticks, all to apparently urgent purpose.

Faulkes argues for "a certain cuteness" in his research subjects (a quality that challenged even Disney in its animation "Kim Possible") by pointing in particular to "their little twittering noises, with about 18 vocalizations that seem very important to them and which makes them sound a bit like baby birds."