The Beauty of Ugly
Star-Nosed Moles

Star-nosed mole in a tunnel

It won’t win any beauty contests, but in terms of talent, the weird-looking star-nosed mole is the one to beat. The little mole, scientifically known as Condylura cristata, commonly lives in the wetlands and marshes of the eastern United States. As its name implies, it has a star for a nose — specifically, a snout made up of 22 fleshy tentacles, that form a fleshy, circular star. And with that star, says biologist Kenneth Catania of Vanderbilt University, the little mole can do some remarkable things.

For example, Catania, who has been studying the unusual mole since his graduate student days at the University of California at San Diego, recently discovered that star-nosed moles have the odd habit of blowing bubbles underwater through their nostrils. It’s not mere play. Using a high-speed camera, Catania filmed the moles as they created the bubbles — at a rate of between 5 and 10 bubbles per second, or about the same speed at which other rodents sniff — and found that most of the bubbles are immediately sucked back into the nose. He also discovered that the moles aim their bubbles at specific targets; they’ll blow out a bubble to touch the surface of an object, such as a piece of an earthworm (a star-nosed mole delicacy) or a small fish. “When these bubbles come into contact with an object, it is almost inevitable that odorant molecules” — those that impart smell — “will mix with the air and be drawn into the nose when the bubble is inhaled,” Catania says. That means, he says, that the mole uses the bubbles to smell. The finding came as a big surprise to Catania and other scientists, because mammals weren’t thought to be able to smell underwater at all, much less smell by blowing bubbles.

Star-nosed mole nose 

A star-nosed mole’s snout is made up of 22 tentacles

In previous work, Catania found that the mole’s tentacled snout enables it to perform another prodigious feat: it can detect and gulp down prey with astonishing speeds. The moles, which are nearly blind, use their tentacles to survey their murky marshland habit. The fleshy tentacles, each of which is covered with over 25,000 sensory receptors (called Eimer’s organs), are used to repeatedly touch objects near the mole. Catania found that when a mole finds something that could be food, it needs just 250 milliseconds (a quarter of a second) to identify it, decide if it is edible, and eat it. Of that time, Catania found, only 8 milliseconds — 8 thousandths of a second — are actually used for the mole’s brain to make the identification. In fact, the mole makes these decisions so fast that it often messes up. It may pass by food that’s edible, then quickly head back to give it another feel. That inefficiency, Catania says, shows that the mole is “operating at, or near, the limit set by the speed which the mole’s nervous system can process touch information.” In other words, it’s literally impossible for the mole to forage any faster than it does.

  • JOANIE

    I think the moles are cute-not ugly! I collect bean bag moles-I love moles! They are so cool looking!

  • dylan bevin

    moles are not cute! they r so uhhhglyyyy omg ewwie. u gotta be kidding riteee??? thats just gross luking!

  • Baylee

    this is nasty!

  • kyleigh

    omg…So NASTY!!

  • Alison

    I think that they are NASTY!!!!!!

  • Rebbeca Bercawitch

    these moles are so cute! i lov them, i don’t collect beanie-babies, but i still love them!

  • its Kyleigh

    REALLY NASTY!!!

  • Rebecca Bercawitch

    i still love them and think they are cute!

  • Morgan

    they are nasty. OMG naked mole rats are ugly!!!!!!

  • james

    ummm…. they are ugly and gross looking!!

  • Julian

    They’re cute in their own way. You just have to look a little closer: at their size, at their mannerisms, at their relentlessness. I find them quite fascinating. Look a little closer befor you judge…

  • RichEd

    Obviously Cthulhu! Alert the military.

  • helz

    moles are well cute :) luv em

  • Moleymoley

    I CAN’T BELIVE YOU!! Star-nosed moles are one of the most fantastic creatures ever. They are highly intelligent(I think), use their nose well, and they are original. They broke out of the mole-mold! Does it really MATTER that their most important facter is a bit unappealing to some people(I frankly think the nose is cute)? It’s like not liking Einstien because his hair is crazy.

  • holly

    the star nose mole is so ugly

  • pa

    it dnt matter they all animals they all cute as saying i love animals

  • carolyn

    i have aproject 2 but they are cute

  • joanie

    once again these moles are so ugly that they are cute! I have a beanbag starnosed mole and it is very cute-my friends love to torture it! not nasty!

  • nitsirt

    awwww i ♥ moles!!! cute cute cute!!!!! i ♥ any living thing!!!

  • RALPH JOHNSON

    Sir: I am interested in catch and release of moles to my berry operation at the farm. I am particularly interested in how you find them in their burrows. My neighbors do not want me digging up their entire lawns. Would you share some of your secrets as to how to find them?

  • emilea maxwell

    i think that the star nosed mole is an interestin creature and it has one eye catching feature its nose!! when you see the star nosed mole you dont realy see the beauty of the creature all you see is it’s ugly nose, but besides that it is wonderful>> thinks for reading

    By: Emilea Maxwell
    Mail: look me up on face-book under emilea simmons

  • ziggrl

    Oh my. I just saw one dead in my yard. I looked at it real good then tried to identify it in my nature book.

  • kristanlovesgforcespecklesniccage

    I have seen Disney’s G-Force the other day and the mole Speckles was very cute though! They don’t look any different but very fascinating, extraordinary creatures and sometimes cute in their own way! I wish I can babysit one for a week to see how they survive! Are they poisonous or bite? or are they as harmless as a guinea pig? Let me know commentors out there! The info doesn’t help very much on that part!

  • Judy Sheldon

    Amazing, and this mole has no concerns about obesity and high cholesterol when it eats “fast” food!

  • nathan

    homo

  • parker

    i love these guys. so cute doing a report on them right now

  • heinz harrald

    omg what’s this. so ugly. like me…

  • meister propper

    this is nice. ich think i will wash my t-shirt now

  • Sil in Corea

    I found a star-nosed mole on top of the snow one winter. Took it home, but it didn’t live long; it’s tentacles were frost-bitten and it could not find the food I put in it’s box for it. I think they are cute. Their fur is very soft.

  • Madeline

    I need to know how to makemole nose.

  • Joe Jackson

    They are adorable! Quit hating!!!! Leave the poor things alone

  • cassy

    adorable little thing’s i don’t understand people who disagree but you have your opinion and i have mine

  • Jhony

    I’m impressed with that little animal..

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