Green Wednesday: The star-nosed mole!!

on 14 Nov 2012 

The star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata) is a small mole found in wet low areas of eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, with records extending along the Atlantic coast as far as extreme southeastern Georgia. It is the only member of the tribe Condylurini and the genus Condylura.

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 15 to 20 cm (5.9 to 7.9 in) in length, weigh about 55 g (2 oz), and have 44 teeth. The mole's most distinctive feature is a circle of 22 mobile, pink, fleshy tentacles called rays at the end of the snout, from which it derives its name. These are used to identify food by touch, such as worms, insects and crustaceans.

The extremely sensitive nasal tentacles are covered with minute touch receptors known as Eimer's organs. The nose is about 1 cm in diameter with roughly 25,000 Eimer's organs distributed on 22 appendages. Eimer's organs were first described in the European mole in 1871 by German zoologist Theodor Eimer. Other mole species also possess Eimer's organs, though they are not as specialized or numerous as in the star-nosed mole.

Because the star-nosed mole is functionally blind, the snout was long suspected to be used to detect electrical activity in prey animals, though little, if any, empirical support has been found for this hypothesis. The nasal star and dentition of this species appear to be primarily adapted to exploit extremely small prey.

A report in the journal Nature gives this animal the title of fastest-eating mammal, taking as short as 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.

These moles also possess the ability to smell underwater, accomplished by exhaling air bubbles onto objects or scent trails and then inhaling the bubbles to carry scents back through the nose.

(I think it was the inspiration for the ood! - Liz)