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What is a star-nosed mole? © Getty Images

What is a star-nosed mole?

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Say hello to this spider-nosed, bubble blowing, fast eating, testicle swelling, fluffy tunnel dweller.

This subterranean mammal looks like a furball trying to swallow a fat, fleshy spider. Native to the eastern parts of North America and Canada, it snuffles through the tunnels that it carves with its sturdy front claws. Living in the dark, its eyes are essentially useless, and it locates its prey via the 11 pairs of finger-like tentacles that surround its snout. This star-like appendage is densely packed with more than 100,000 nerve fibres, all squashed into an area smaller than a human fingertip.


Thanks to this sensitive touch organ, the mole takes a mere eight milliseconds to decide whether or not something is edible, identifying and eating a grub in less than a quarter of a second. So the next time you chide your teenager for bolting their meal, just be thankful they’re not a star-nosed mole – the fastest eaters in the mammal kingdom.

The mole can also smell in underwater tunnels, by blowing air bubbles onto objects or scent trails and then re-inhaling the scented bubbles. Another of its quirks is that, during mating season, the testicles of adult males swell to take up around 10 per cent of their body mass. This would be akin to an adult human walking around with a bowling ball in their pants, which thankfully does not happen.

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Helen Pilcher
Helen PilcherScience writer, presenter and performer.

Helen Pilcher is a tea-drinking, biscuit-nibbling science and comedy writer, with a PhD in cell biology.


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