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Condylura cristata - Star-nosed Mole

Physical Description:

Condylura cristata is one of North America’s unique Insectivores.  It weighs 1.2-2.6 ounces and has a length of 6.9-8.1 inches.  But the very defining feature of this mammal is the 22 fleshy tentacles on its nose-which is how it got its name “star-nosed”.

The star-nosed mole has dense, dark brown fur that aid in its movement through soil. Their eyes are concealed and external ears are absent.  The tail is long and hairy and during winter months acts as a fat storage.  Forefeet are broad and palms face outward-an adaptation for digging (Kurta 1995 and Linzey 2003).


Compared with other moles, the star-nosed mole has the farthest northern range in North America.  Found from eastern Canada-up to James Bay- and the United States from Minnesota to the east coast, down to Georgia.  In Wisconsin, the star-nosed mole is only absent in the south-west corner of the state (Canadian Museum of Nature 2003 and Kurta 1995).

The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals.  1999.  Edited by Don E. Wilson and Sue Ruff.

Ontogeny and Reproduction:

Star-nosed moles produce one litter of 2-7 offspring per year.  Sexual maturity is reached by 10 months.  Copulation occurs in early spring, and young are usually born during April or May.  Gestation is about 45 days.  The offspring will remain with the mother for about three weeks (Kurta 1995, Linzey 2003, and Sorin 2002).

Ecology and Behavior:

Star-nosed moles live in damp and swampy environments.  Able to move easily through soil, on land, and are adapt swimmers.  Diet consists of worms, insects, and fish.  Star-nosed moles construct tunnel systems in the soil, some even open up underwater.

The moles are active during the day and night throughout the year.  Nests are constructed of leaves, grasses and other vegetation. Predators of the star-nosed mole include skunks, owls, and snakes.  The longevity of Condylura cristata is currently unknown (Catania 1999, Kurta 1995, and National Wildlife Federation 2003).


Star-nosed moles are known for their unique tentacles or “star”. The star doesn’t play any role with the olfactory system.  Instead it is full of nerve fibers that carry information to the central nervous system and eventually to the neocortex.  Most scientists believe these sensitive tentacles aid the mole in finding food items and explore its environment. Research shows that the star is able to touch 10 objects in a second.

It is believed that ancestors of the star-nosed mole had sensory organs laying against the sides of the snout.  Slowly over time these organs raised to form the present day star nose.  Scientists have looked at Scapanus orarius (the coast mole) and Scapanus townsendii (Townsend’s mole) for evolutionary references.  Both the former mentioned moles express short sensory organs laying flat against their noses-which bear significant resemblance to that of the star (Catania 2002, and Milas 1999).

Literature Cited:

Canadian Museum of Nature.  2003.  Condylura cristata.  <>.  Accessed 9 September 2003.

Catina, K.C.  2002.  The nose takes a starring role.  Scientific American 287(1).

Kurta, A.  1995.  Mammals of the Great Lakes region.  University of Michigan Press: Anne Arbor.  Pg. 56-59.

Linzey, D. and C. Brecht.  2003.  Star-nosed mole.  University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.  <>.  Accessed 9 September 2003.

Milius, S.  1999.  Snouts: a star is born in a very odd way.  Science News 156(17):  261-262.

National Wildlife Federation.  Star-nosed mole-Condylura cristata.  <>.  Accessed 9 September 2003.

Rankin, B.  1997.  Star of the swamp.  National Wildlife 35(1).

Sorin, A.B.  2002.  Star-nosed mole.  University of Michigan: Animal Diversity Web.  <$narrative.html>.  Accessed 2 December 2003.

The Smithsonian Book of North American Mammals, edited by Don E. Wilson and Sue Ruff.  1999.  <>.  Accessed 2 December 2003.

Reference written by Holly Harrington, Biol 378: Edited by Chris Yahnke.
Page last updated 4-23-04.

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