The star-nosed mole is interesting both in an aesthetically curious way and from a scientific perspective. After all, these little furry creatures kind of look like they have an octopus growing out of their face. However, those weird-looking tentacles are actually sensory organs that help the mole move, detect prey, smell underwater, and accomplish everything it needs in life.
The mole's bizarre nasal appendages contain thousands of sensory receptors - more sensitivity than the human palm - which is an unexpected feature for an animal that spends its life burrowing in the muck. Star-nosed moles are incredible creatures, but also are at risk of losing their wetland homes as development and construction take over.
The star on the star-nosed mole's face consists of 22 tentacles the mole uses to sense the world around it. As it moves through the underground darkness, the mole utilizes the 100,000 sensory neurons embedded in its tentacles to detect food. Scientists call the tentacles "rays," and each set of 11 tentacles has a master ray to which the others react. When the master ray finds a potential source of food, the other rays begin feeling it out, too and quickly identify it so the mole can decide the proper course of action.
According to Natural History magazine, "Under a microscope, the... organs appear in a honeycombed pattern of tiny epidermal 'domes,' each sensitive to the slightest touch."
Star-nosed moles are really touchy-feely, meaning they feel out the world around them to get a picture of how it looks. Their sensory organs act as eyes; the tentacles they use to search for prey each have thousands of what are known as Eimer's organs that show the moles what they are encountering and guide their movements as they burrow through the ground.
Although the celestial-looking snout of a star-nosed mole is only the size of a human fingertip, it has double the amount of sensory organs as an entire human hand: approximately 30,000, whereas a human hand has just 17,000.
Most animals find their prey by seeing it, but not star-nosed moles. These creatures have to sense their food with the 22 tentacles around their nose. In fact, the moles are nearly blind.
Star-nosed moles' incredibly poor eyesight makes sense because they live underground, so there is little light in their habitat. Scientists believe the moles' sensory rays evolved in response, with one master ray doing most of the sensing to bring items to the other rays' attention. The tentacles' movement is similar to the fast, nearly imperceptible eye movements of other mammals, and it comparably triggers brain activity as eyesight does in other creatures. The tentacles focus on one small thing, much like the eyes, while the rest of the sensory organs act in support of the primary sensing organ.