Life Span: 2-4 Years
Weight: 35-75 GSize: 15-20 CMTop speed: 8 KM/H
The Star-nosed mole is a very distinctive mammal, with black fur, and wide forefeet tipped with talons that are designed for digging. The palms of their pinkish and black feet face outwards. Their tail is long and hairy. The snout has 11 or 12 paires of little pink tentacles, splayed out like a star.
In the mole’s dark underground world, sight is useless—instead, it feels a world pulsing with prey. The mole hunts by bopping its star against the soil as quickly as possible; it can touch more than 10 different places in a single second. It looks random, but it’s not. With each touch, 100,000 nerve fibers send information to the mole’s brain. That’s five times more touch sensors than in the human hand, all packed into a nose smaller than a fingertip.
Star nosed mole is nearly blind underground, but it is astonishingly speedy: The world’s fastest eater, it can find and gobble down an insect or worm in a quarter of a second.
The Star-nosed mole is a native of eastern North America (northeastern United States and southeastern Canada). Its range goes from the Atlantic Ocean westwards to North Dakota and Manitoba and south to Virginia and Ohio. It also occurs on the Atlantic coast southwards to Georgia and throughout the Appalachian Mountains. This species is found in a range of habitats that have moist soil. These animals prefer areas with poor drainage, such as coniferous and deciduous forests, wet meadows, clearings, marshes and peatlands. They will also inhabit stream banks, lakes and ponds, and will venture into them for food. Although preferring wet areas, these moles have been seen in dry meadows up to 400 m from water.
Habits and Lifestyle
Star-nosed moles are diurnal animals and are active throughout the year. They prefer wet areas and they tunnel through swampy areas, digging shallow tunnels underground, as well as deeper ones. Nests are built on a raised area that is drier. The star nosed moles are semi aquatic and sometimes their tunnels open directly into water. They can swim well and will dive for several seconds, sometimes remaining underwater for over 30 seconds. During winter Star-nosed moles hunt more in water because the wet ground is likely to be frozen, and they will even swim under ice. If they come above ground searching for food it is usually at night. Little is known about how they communicate with each other. Young Star-nosed moles produce high-pitched noises and adults make wheezing sounds.
Diet and Nutrition
Star-nosed mole feeds primarily on invertebrates. Like other moles that live underground. It patrols its burrows searching for earthworms that enter through the walls. When it has access to a body of water, it prefers to hunt aquatic prey. About half of its diet consists of worms, and 80% of these are aquatic species such as leeches. Aquatic insects make up another 20% of its diet, including the larvae of caddisflies, midges, dragonflies and damselflies, crane flies, horse flies, predaceous diving beetles and stoneflies. Star nosed mole will also take occasional terrestrial insects, aquatic crustaceans, mollusks and small fish.
The Star-nosed mole appears to be serially monogamous, with pairs remaining together for one breeding season. Males and females seem to pair up in autumn and stay together for the duration of the mating season, which is March and April. Gestation is for about 45 days, with young being born in late April until mid-June. A female produces one litter per year of 2 to 7 young, with 5 being a typical litter size. The young are hairless at birth, are about 49 mm in length and weigh about 1.5 g. Their eyes, ears and star are functional after around 2 weeks. They are independent when they are 30 days old and sexually mature at 10 months.
Star-nosed mole is common and widespread throughout its range but no overall population estimate is available. Currently, this species is classified as Least Concern and its numbers today remain stable.
There are no major threats to the Star-nosed mole. However, since it depends on wetlands for its survival, ongoing destruction of these areas to house an expanding human population could affect this species in future.
The Star-nosed mole has an important role in many wetland ecosystems, providing food for some carnivores and consuming many aquatic invertebrates. In its tunneling through the moist ground, it provides aeration for the roots of plants that otherwise might be trapped in soil that is anoxic.
Interesting Star-Nosed Mole Facts
1. Their start nose isn’t used for smelling, it’s used for touch to feel around, and hunt prey in darkness.
The mole hunts by bopping its star nose against the ground rapidly; it can touch more than 10 different places in a single second.
2. Their star-nose rays are in constant motion when exploring.
The small finger like rays of the star are constantly moving, touching and feeling what’s around the mole.
3. Their star is the most sensitive touch organ known in any mammal.
It contains more than 100,000 nerve fibers, around five times the number of touch fibers in a human hand, all packed into their star which is smaller than a fingertip. The sensory receptors are known as ‘Elmer’s Organs’, after the scientist who first observed them. They help the mole detect seismic wave vibrations from its surroundings.
4. Star-nosed moles are functionally blind.
Their eyes are barely visible due to their dense fur, but like all moles, they aren’t completely blind – they are colorblind and see poorly. They can only see light and movement.
5. The star-nosed mole ‘sees’ the world with its star.
They use their star in the same as the way we use our eyes as a sensory organ to understand the environment. Research shows that their brain is organised around signals from their stars, much in the same way that humans brains are arranged by visual information from eyes.
6. They eat faster than any other mammal on earth.
Due to the vast sensory receptors in it’s star, the star-nosed mole is able to find an object, determine if it’s edible, and then eat it (if it’s an insect or worm) in under a quarter of a second.
7. The star-nosed mole is semi-aquatic.
There are 39 species of mole, and the star-nosed mole is the only species that lives in swamps and marshes. They are excellent swimmers and propel themselves forward using their feet and tale. Bottom-dwelling aquatic invertebrates are the principal winter foods of star-nosed moles living near water.
8. They can smell underwater.
It’s widely been accepted that mammals can’t logistically smell underwater, however the star-nosed mole has deivsed an ingenuis workaround. They sniff underwater by blowing bubbles towards an object, and then re-inhaling the same air bubbles to retreive their scent, and smell them. This is thought to help detect both prey, and potential predators.
9. Star-nosed mole use their front legs as shovels.
They use them to dig shallow tunnels up to 30m in length, for foraging through marshes and swamps. They are excellent diggers, and their broad feet are equipped with claws, ideal for moving dirt. They also use them for burrowing their nests underground.
10. Like all moles, they burrow to nest and can make molehills.
They generally build their nest in deeper tunnels away from predators, usually below a protective structure, like rocks or logs. They use sticks, leaves and dry grass to line their nests and stay dry.
11. In winter it’s tale swells up with fat, making it 4 times larger than its normal size.
It serves as a fat storage organ, to help the mole survive the winter months.
12. The star-nosed mole is the only mole thought to live in colonies.
Most moles are solitary animals, only socializing when they reproduce. Little is known about their social behaviour of the star-nosed mole, but they are thought to live in small ‘loose’ colonies.
13. Star-nosed mole mate once a year and the male and female separate after birth.
They mate in February to March, and produce a spring litter, usually in April to May and produce one litter of 2 to 7 pups. After birth, the female generally raises the young alone.
14. Their population is stable and there are no significant threats to the species.
While exact population numbers of the star-nosed mole are unknown, they are quite common in North America and Canada.
15. What’s more, unlike the 38 other mole species, star-nosed moles can swim
Star nosed mole has the unique ability to smell underwater. They can blow between five and 10 air bubbles per second, aiming them at objects such as fish or crustaceans to pick up what he calls “odorant molecules.” The moles suck the bubbles back into their snouts to sniff for the scents of potential prey. This discovery, which caught the scientist by surprise, provided the first evidence of a mammal being capable of using its olfactory skills while underwater.