May 25, 2018
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What has 22 pink tentacles around its nostrils?

By Judy Kellogg Markowsky

One of the most interesting mammals found in Maine is the star-nosed mole. I found one next to the pond at Avalon Village where I live. There was a hole in the mud, and below the hole, mud was coming out.

These moles like deep, mucky soil in wet meadows, and in marshes, swamps and bogs. Sometimes they are found in damp spots in fields, or near streams and ponds like the pond at Avalon Village.

Star-nosed moles have 22 pink tentacles arranged in a circle around their nostrils. This arrangement of tentacles around the nose is what gives them the name “star-nosed mole.” These sensitive tentacles are feelers that help them find their prey.

Star-nosed moles eat aquatic insects, earthworms, crayfish, slugs, snails, an occasional small minnow and some plant material. No other mammal has feelers or tentacles around the nose.

Their eyes are small, and ears are hardly visible, but the two front legs and feet are large, for digging. They can dive underwater and are good swimmers, using their front feet like oars while sculling with their tail. Years ago, in winter, I found a star-nosed mole frozen in the ice of a brook. I believe that the mole came out from its burrow and couldn’t find it again.

Another strange fact about the star-nosed mole is that in winter its tail is swollen and covered with coarse black hair. I believe that the tail fat is used for food during the breeding season in February and March. Food is not easily found in winter, and you sometimes find their tunnels in the snow.

Star-nosed moles make irregular, zigzag burrows as they go around tree roots and rocks. They dig tunnels that sometimes are 2 feet deep, then rise to the surface and end at, or below, the water level of a stream.

You can see the burrows at the surface, because the mud or soil comes up like a ceiling or ridge, 2 inches wide. Mice, shrews and other small mammals sometimes use these tunnels.

Star-nosed moles make a nest above high-water level. The nest is made with grass, straw and leaves, and is 7 inches in diameter and 4 inches high. The moles are colonial animals, and populations of 10 or more star-nosed moles to an acre have been reported.

For information on Fields Pond Audubon Center, call 989-2591.

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