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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 13:20 EDT

Star-nosed Mole

The Star-nosed Mole (Condylura cristata), is a small mole found in eastern Canada and the north-eastern United States. It is found in wet lowland areas where it lives on invertebrates, aquatic insects, worms, and mollusks. It is a very good swimmer and can forage along the bottoms of streams and ponds. It is active at day and night and throughout the winter. It will tunnel through snow and also swim in ice-covered streams.

The Star-nosed Mole is covered in thick blackish brown water-repellent fur and has large scaled feet and a long thick tail, which appears to function as a fat storage reserve for the spring breeding season. Adults are 6 to 7.8 inches in length, weigh about 2 ounces, and have 44 teeth. The mole’s most distinctive feature is a circle of 22 mobile, pink, fleshy tentacles at the end of the snout. The star of tentacles is formed in a unique way so far not seen other places in the animal world. Instead of growing in the same way fingers grow outward on a hand, they start as swellings on the face around the nose, and some days after birth they break free and move forward in the same way a banana is peeled. These tentacles are used to search out food.

Because the Star-nosed Mole is functionally blind, it had long been suspected that the snout was used to detect electrical activity in prey animals, though there is little, if any, empirical support for this contention. It appears the nasal star and dentition of this species are primarily adapted to exploit extremely small prey items. A report in the journal Nature gives this animal the title of fastest-eating mammal, taking only 120 milliseconds to identify and consume individual food items. Its brain decides in the ultra short time of 8 ms if a prey is edible or not. This speed is at the limit of the speed of neurons. They also possess the ability to smell underwater. It is done by exhaling air bubbles onto objects or scent trails and then re-inspire the bubbles to carry the smell back through the nose.

The Star-nosed Mole mates in late winter or early spring, and the female has one litter of typically 4 or 5 young in late spring or early summer. Predators include the Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, various skunks and mustelids, and even large fish.

Star-nosed Mole