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Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) skeleton | by Dallas Krentzel
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Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) skeleton

This is the Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus), a monotypic talpid mole in the New World mole raditation Scalopini (although one Chinese mole belongs to this group as well, strangely). It occurs in the eastern half of North American, extending slightly in Mexico and barely penetrating into Canada. This mole harbors some rather extreme fossorial (digging lifestyle) adaptations, including a robust manus (hand) as wide as it is long with large claws and a highly elongated sesamoid bone (not visible in this photo, see adjacent in my photostream). It also has an utterly massive olecranon process (extension of the ulna, basically a lever mechanism for foreleg movement) and wide, robust humeri and clavicles, that, like the manus, are more squarish overall rather then elongated (the humeri of this mole are also just really funky looking in general). But, as you can see, those scapula look rather skinny and puny. That's compensated by a bird-like keel on the manubrium of the sternum that serves to increase muscle attachment area for the back-and-forth movement of the forelegs. This basically means that moles utilize the same sort of mechanism as birds do in the air to "fly through the dirt." That's pretty neat.

 

Some moles are aquatic, particularly the desmans. Despite the name "Scalopus aquaticus," however, the Eastern mole is not an aquatic species. That name comes from the fact that the type specimen was found dead in a body of water.

 

Skulls in the background: left front to back: Tree shrew (Tupaia sp.), European hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus), North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), and an African Cape porcupine (Hystrix africaeaeustralis).

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Taken on January 5, 2012