I may be about to launch a new feature here on the blog: hot critter. This is because I am now officially in love with the star-nosed mole after having a minor encounter with it this week at work.
hello, my name is condylura cristata
The star-nosed mole is amazing. It has a sense of touch beyond what we humans can even imagine. The “star” around its nose is actually a group of 22 super-sensitive tentacles. The tentacles are incredibly efficient at detecting food. A recent study found that it takes a star-nosed mole less than 1/4 second to detect, identify, and eat a piece of food – that’s half the time it takes a human driver to hit the brake after recognizing danger. The tentacles can touch something like 12 objects per second as the mole navigates its environment. The star-nosed mole detects 14 times as many edible organisms as its closest cousin, the eastern mole, in the same amount of time.
This means that the mole is incredibly efficient at gathering small food. It beats out all its competitors, like eastern moles, hairy-tail moles, shrews and voles, at gobbling up the tiny edible delicacies (like larvae – yum) that are so abundant in their marshy habitat. And they can even find food underwater!
The star-nosed mole is also the only semi-aquatic mole species in North America. They live in swamps and marshes and are great swimmers, but since they paddle with both right legs, then both left legs, they swim with a zig-zag motion. They can also follow a scent trail underwater to find food. Check out this slow-motion video of a star-nosed mole sniffing through underwater air bubbles.
Here in North Carolina, the star-nosed mole is listed as a “Species of Special Concern” due to its dwindling numbers, especially in the east (thank you, habitat destruction). Next time you’re out in a swampy marsh, be sure to say hello.
And if you see Madonna cruising London with a pet star-nosed mole sticking out of her handbag, you'll know you heard it here first: hot critter.