Saturday, January 26, 2013

A Visitor with Marvelous Adaptations

Eastern mole by Kelby Ouchley
Yesterday an interesting creature came to visit.  The Eastern Mole (Scalopus aquaticus) showed up on our doorstep, because a nosey dog had extracted him from his tunnel.  Fortunately, the mole was wet, but not injured.

A good reference is George Lowery, Jr.'s book, The Mammals of Louisiana and its Adjacent Waters, so the next step after examination was to read about the mole.  "Moles are among the most highly specialized of all terrestrial mammals,"  writes Lowery.  "They are indeed a marvelous bundle of adaptations to their particular way of life, which involves spending probably 99 percent of their time in their subterranean passages."

The mole's front legs and feet look like good digging tools.  The legs are short; the big feet turn outward and possess five spade-like claws.  The mole's head is unique.  The delicate nose protrudes like a pink probe, there are no external ears, and no eyes are apparent..  According to Lowery, natural selection has reduced the ears and the eyes to tiny openings.  Also, the tail is a short, bare stub.  The moles doesn't need ears, eyes, or a tail underground.

Many books describe mole fur as soft as velvet, which is perfect.  Their soft, velvety fur allows the mole to go forward or backward with ease in his tunnel.

I have found mole skulls in owl pellets during my years as an environmental educator, but had not encountered a live mole since my college days.  After looking and photographing the unusual animal, I released him and he disappeared into a brush pile to get back to his work IN the earth's ecosystem.

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