Photo in the News: A Many-Fingered Nose

Photo: Star-nosed mole
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February 2, 2005—Judged by their sniffers, star-nosed moles should be celebrities of the animal kingdom: The rodents use their snouts, which sport a ring of 22 octopus-like tentacles, to pinpoint and help capture worms, fish, and other small prey with lightning speed.

Now researchers at Vanderbilt University have revealed just how stellar the moles' noses are. Using high-speed video cameras, the biologists found that the moles are the fastest mammalian foragers on Earth. The rodents can identify and grab small prey in an eye-blurring quarter of a second—or about as fast as the rodents' brains and nervous systems will allow.

This speedy foraging is not just efficient. It allows the moles to make a profitable living on smaller prey than their marsh-dwelling competitors do.

Similar studies "may provide new insights into predator evolution," the researchers write in tomorrow's issue of the science journal Nature. "Star-nosed moles seem to have reached this extreme."

—Sean Markey

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