Sunday, October 19, 2014

form follows function

The mole's front paws mirror my own hands.

In biology, form follows function. 

In the case of the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus), a medium-sized rodent-like mammal, its form is perfectly suited for life underground. Its front paws are enormous for digging tunnels in loose loamy soil. Its eyes are tiny, virtually nonexistent, because it senses its world in other ways, touch and scent. To that end, its nose is long and taped to sniff out earthworms and beetle grubs, the mole's plat préféré.

Linnaeus himself gave this species its scientific name: Scalopus, from two Greek words which mean "digging" and "foot," which is spot on but the specific name aquaticus misses the mark. There's a reason: The specimen Linnaeus reviewed was found floating dead in the water, so he assumed it was designed to swim, but a Michael Phelps it is not. 

We're captivated by mammals since we are one; so much like ourselves, yet so curiously different, especially the subterranean moles with eyes like Mr. Magoo and the hands of Van Cliburn. 

Ijams AmeriCorps educator Sammi Stoklosa recently found the dead one pictured above. It wasn't floating, just dead, perhaps killed and dropped by a great horned owl.

If so, did it die from natural causes?

Photo by Kenneth Catania, Vanderbilt University

No comments: