Star-nosed Mole Condylura cristata
Common Names: giant mole shrew facts
Species: Condylura cristata
General Description The star-nosed mole is an interesting little creature with a very distinct appearance. Although its body closely resembles the common mole body, it has one feature that is distinguishing – its nose. As the name clearly states, it is in the shape of a star. The star has 22 fleshy appendages, 11 around each nostril, that are pinkish in color. On these fleshy appendages, there are little bumps that look like goose bumps. These organs are called Eimer’s organs. They are not unique to the star-nosed mole, but this mole does have a significant number more than most other moles. These organs are particularly touch sensitive; therefore, the star becomes quite useful when the mole is in search of food.
The star-nosed mole is very small, weighing on average between 34 and 78 grams. Its mean body length is between 114 and 127 mm. The mole’s body is very well adapted for digging. It does not appear to have a neck because its head rests between the extremely well developed pectoral girdle. Its front paws are very large and the palms face outwards to facilitate digging. The tail of the mole is quite long, ranging from 76 to 89 mm. The fur of the star-nosed mole is black in color, and it is quite dense, but not quite as soft as that of moles who are more fossorial. Its head is very long and narrow with no external ears and minute eyes. The mole’ s 44 teeth fit tightly together, and they are sharp and pointy.
The star- nosed mole is rarely seen, but there are a few signs that may indicate its presence. If the mole is digging close to the surface of the ground, there will often be tiny ridges on the ground above the tunnel. Occasionally, mole hills of a decent size will also be formed if the soil from deeper, bigger tunnels is pushed to the surface. Unfortunately, this does not happen very often as their burrow systems almost always open at or under the surface of the water.
Geographical Distribution and Habitat Requirements The star-nosed mole is one of the most extensively distributed moles in North America. It is found all along the east coast of the mainland of Canada, including Cape Breton Island, and as far north as the middle of Labrador. It also extends out to the west as far as Riding Mountain, Manitoba. In the United States, it can be found as far south as Georgia and in some parts of Florida. It also extends west as far as North Dakota and Tennessee. The star-nosed mole is found in a variety of habitats throughout New Brunswick, but it is most often found in dark, swampy, marshy land adjacent to bodies of water such as streams. Its tunnels, typically 4 cm wide and between 3 and 60 cm deep, may diverge from the burrow system. There may also be tunnels which are not blocked which open up into the water where a mole may be seen swimming one or more meters deep. Its nests, which are made of any available material (usually grasses and vegetation), are found above the high water line on some type of natural elevation.
General Biology Although the star-nosed mole does spend a lot of time underground burrowing tunnels, it is, in fact, a semi-aquatic mammal. It is a very good swimmer, and it can often be found in the water searching for food. As the star-nosed mole is an insectivore, its diet consists of such things as worms, larvae of aquatic insects, small crustaceans, and occasionally small fish. When the mole is in search of food in a slow thick environment, it sometimes uses its tail to help move it along. Underground, the mole can be found in a tunnel system. As the mole digs through these tunnels, it moves its nose at incredible speeds hitting objects about ten times per second. This lets the mole detect prey easily in order for a quick snatch. During the winter months, the star-nosed mole has alternatives to tunnels. The moles will also go up to the surface to run on the snow, and they can be found swimming beneath the ice in search of food as it is easier to find there. During these cold months, the tail of the star- nosed mole also becomes very thick. It is thought that this may be an energy reserve for the animal. The star-nosed mole is not an animal that makes much noise. It does, however have social interaction with other moles as can be seen by their sharing of tunnel systems, which is quite rare among most other moles. The star- nosed mole sleeps about 43% of its life, but it can be active both in the night and day. The breeding season is generally in March and April, and the young, 2-7 per litter, are usually born from April to early August. Within 3 weeks the young are ready to fend for themselves, and they are ready for breeding the following spring. The distribution of this animal is very patchy so it is difficult to estimate a range size, but in 2 studies listed by C. G. Van Zyll de Jong there were densities of 25 to 41 animals per hectare.
Conservation Although the conservation of the star-nosed mole is not a topic which is readily available, this mammal is not listed as endangered. It is sometimes prey to the great horned owl, large fish, hawks, skunks, and bullfrogs, but they do not seem to be a threat to the survival of the mole. The star-nosed mole is also very flexible to different climates and habitat. The mole does not seem to be in danger, and it can be assumed that its conservation status is quite stable.