Meet the star (nosed) of the show

IMAGE Front view of a star-nosed mole. Credit: Ken Catania

Dr. Kenneth Catania from Vanderbilt University presented his work with star-nosed moles at the Experimental Biology meeting last month in Chicago. These animals are really cool. Here are some facts from Dr. Catania about these crazy-looking creatures you may not know:

  1. If participating in a bug-eating contest, they would win hands down every time because they are the fastest-eating mammal known. In fact, they can identify and consume a bug in a record less than two tenths of a millisecond. This is possible thanks to neurons that communicate information from the environment to their brain at speeds that are near physiological limits. I couldn't even choose between coffee or tea in that amount of time.
  2. With over 100,000 nerve fibers, their star-nose touch organ is the most sensitive to touch among mammals. Compared to our fingers, their nose has 5 times as many nerves. Could you imagine 5 times more sensitivity in your hands?
  3. Their star-shaped organ is kind of like our eyes as the center of the organ is what they use to explore the environment more closely. They are known to explore areas of interest in the environment with the center of the organ just like humans would shift their gaze to focus on objects.
  4. It is possible to actually see which areas of their brain map to specific body parts just by using special dyes. For humans, the process of mapping what areas of the brain control which body parts requires a lot of trial and error.
  5. Perhaps my favorite characteristics: They can smell while underwater and their front legs work like shovels to make tunnels through marshy areas where they hunt for food.


American Association of Anatomists, Eureka Alert Press Release

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