Sunday, March 25, 2007

Modest Mole

So the purpose of me writing is to talk about the endangered species that people normally wouldn’t want to save, right? Right; the issue is, I’ve noticed that there seem to be more comments on the fuzzier animals, or, failing that, the vertebrates. I suppose this is why the WWF generally focuses on marketing the saving of the pandas and tigers. Aren’t you here for the fruit flies and mosses? Apparently not. So here’s a fuzzy Endangered Ugly Thing, because I give the fans what they want. That, and I noticed I hadn’t talked about any marsupials yet.

Image from Give Us A Home
Image from Give Us A Home

Marsupial Moles (genus Notoryctes, both species are endangered) are, in fact, very fuzzy, at least based on the pictures I’ve seen. The thing that disturbs me the most is that it looks like marsupial moles have no face. Their eyes have more or less atrophied1, the ears are small, hair covered slits, and their nose has grown a large horny shield. All of these adaptations help the Marsupial Mole burrow in the Australian desert where it lives.

Yes, it looks quite a bit like a “normal” mole (except that it has a flat nose). This is due to convergent evolution, since there were a good 130 million years since the last common ancestor. Since there were no burrowing insectivores on the continent, the Marsupial Mole took over the niche. It actively hunts beetles and ants, though ARKive has pictures of it devouring geckos,2.

The Marsupial Mole doesn’t live underground quite as exclusively as the placental mole, as their shallow tunnels collapse behind them and they surface frequently. Females will construct deeper permanent burrows to give birth. Their pouch (called, surprisingly enough, a marsupium) is situated so the opening is backwards, so sand doesn’t get in.

People aren’t quite sure why the Marsupial Mole is endangered. In the early 1900’s, aboriginals traded lots of Marsupial Mole pelts to the Europeans, but it’s been a while since then. The best guess now is predation by feral cats and other introduced placentals. Conservation efforts are just beginning, with the main goal to understand more about their ecology.

Edit: The "Save the Wartyback Mussel" T-shirt is now avaliable for Phantom Midge (and anyone else who wants one) to purchace here.

1Not really, that’s a very Lamarkian way of thinking of it. Eyes, which would just get sand in them and not be very helpful, were bred out of the population.
2Do these pictures not make it look like something out of Dune? It looks like the sort of thing to burst from the sand and just start eating people.


phantom midge said...

I was curious and did some looking and you are IS hard to find "ugly" things that are endangered. The closest I found was the oddly named dromedary jumping slug (have you ever seen a slug jump?), which is only threatened. Oh, and I will buy my Wartback T this week and leave the endangered searching to the expert.

Greg said...

Hey. Great post, as always.

Have you posted anything about crustaceans? I haven't gone back through the complete archives. Here's one I came across: Kaui Cave Amphipod. There's got a be a few more endangered ugly crustaceans out there too.

Garfman said...

I have to admit, my first response to the Dromedary Jumping Slug was "What the...?" It is so going on the blog next week. And I'm gonna have to see what I can find about this amphipod. Those tend not to be too pretty.

Thanks guys. It's readers like you that make writing these rewarding. And easy, 'coz I don't have to find them myself.

Generic Viagra said...

It is the first time that I saw something like that. It looks pretty funny but I think that those animals almost they don't leave their caves.