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All Creatures,

Episode 140: The Strange Star Nosed Mole

February 04, 2020

We welcome a really unique species, the Star Nosed Mole. While it may look strange, its nose and other adaptations makes this a fascinating creatures to learn about.

Star Nosed Mole History

Moles are not rodents. Rather they are insectivores and are more related to bats than mice or rats. They belong to the family Talpidae. This consists of the moles, shrews and desmans. The family is divided into three subfamilies, 17 genera and 51 species. The Star Nosed Mole is only member of the genus Condylura, with a scientific name of Condylura cristata. The “true moles” live in North America, Asia and Europe. However, other “mole-like” species live in Australia and Africa. Only South America and Antarctica are absent any species of moles. Moles evolved roughly 40 million years ago. Over time they became subterranean specialists. The star nose on this species has evolved to be a highly sensitive organ. Scientists think perhaps the ancestors of the star-nosed mole had strips of Eimer’s organs along the side of the face, and perhaps, in the course of evolutionary time, these strips slowly elevated and eventually “peeled” forward to form separate appendages. Scientists further observed this evolutionary sequence may have been conserved in the present sequence of embryonic development.

Star Nosed Mole Physiology

Obviously what makes this species so unique is the 22 finger-like, tentacle-like projections coming from its nose, shaped like a star. These are highly sensitive organs, Eimer’s organs, that are used by the mole to navigate around its environment.  The Star Nosed Mole’s nose, or these projections are armed with 100,000 nerve endings crammed into an area roughly the size of a human fingertip. Thus, it gives it the most sensitive touch organs in the animal kingdom. By comparison, an entire human hand has about 17,000 nerve endings. The tentacles on the mole’s nose can touch as many as 12 objects per second. Also, this organ can help the mole determine if something is food within 8 milliseconds. Which is instantaneous with the speed of neurons transmit information to the brain.

Please visit the Catania Lab at Vanderbilt University to learn more HERE

Moles are amazing little creatures. Other little facts include:

  • Can live 2-4 years
  • Can swim and hold breath for 30 seconds
  • Use their nose to create air bubbles underwater that they burst to gather odor molecules, looking for food
  • Diets usually consists of earthworms and aquatic insects. However, it may also eat snails, crayfish, small amphibians, and fish
  • The journal Nature gives this animal the title of fastest-eating mammal, taking as short as 120 milliseconds (average: 227 ms) to identify and consume individual food items
  • Their predators include the red-tailed hawk, great horned owl, various skunks, large fish, as well as domestic cats, fox
  • Moles can rebreath its expired air which is high in CO2
  • Moles hemoglobin binds more CO2 compared to us, thus it is not poisonous to them

Star Nosed Mole Conservation

While Least Concern, the Star Nose Mole’s environment and habitat is being encroached upon by humans.

Organizations

The EDGE of Existence

Global Wildlife Conservation

 

 

 

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