In sci-fi films and even in Pirates of the Caribbean one can often see a beast with writhing worms or snakes protruding from its face. The model for such a creature could be the star-nosed mole, for its snout is fringed by 22 fleshy, finger-like extensions that rapidly move around and help the mole obtain food. The mole is nearly blind and is deaf, and lives in darkness in underground tunnels. To compensate for lack of sight and hearing, the tentacles around its nose are exquisitely modified to provide an off-the-chart sense of touch and may even sense subtle electrical fields around prey animals. The tentacles are in constant motion, rapidly touching and sensing the mole’s environment for food (worms, insects, leeches, insect and their larvae, and even small fish). Star-nosed moles are said to be among the fastest eaters in the world, usually consuming prey touched by its tentacles in 227 milliseconds (about a quarter of a second). Found in the wetlands of southeastern Canada and the northeastern U.S., and reaching seven to eight inches in length, these animals are seldom seen. But their touch receptors are so sensitive that some claim these moles should be able to forecast earthquakes. (nature.com/news/1999/991014-7, Oct. 12, 1999; mnn.com/earth-matters/photos/13oftheugliest…, Feb., 2016; the-scientist.com, Sept. 12 issue; ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed, #14673194; other sources)
Paul Burton is professor emeritus in cell biology from the U. of Kansas and a distinguished alumnus from Western Carolina U. A writer/photographer, he has lived in Ephraim for 20 years.