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Fossorial Mammals Presentation

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Biology 2471A/B
Brock Fenton

FOSSORIAL MAMMALS Introduction We decided to focus on fossorial mammals, and moles in particular. Fossorial mammals are vertebrate organisms with limbs that are adapted for digging. The European mole, the golden mole, and the marsupial mole are all different species that have specific adaptations for burrowing. The European mole is native to Europe, with its habitat spanning from Great Britain to Russia. The African golden mole species are endemic to Sub Saharan Africa. And finally, the Australian marsupial mole is native to the deserts of Australia. Our research has uncovered behavioral and skeletal adaptations of these fossorial mammals that provide evidence of convergent evolution. Although these three species of moles live in different parts of the world, they have all adopted a similar body plan that is different from non-fossorial insectivores. This puts an emphasis on the importance of habitat on evolution. Similar to the mole in shape and size, are animals like the shrew and the desman. However, because they do not live the same subterranean lifestyle that the moles live, they do not exhibit the fossorial adaptations of the mole species. These adaptations have evolved due to the stresses placed on them while living underground, and allow the species to live and burrow underground. Statement of Purpose: We will look at taxonomic differences between the three mole families, as well as burrowing, behavioral, and skeletal adaptations, to demonstrate that these fossorial mammals exhibit convergent evolution. Similarities Appearance: All species of moles have cylindrical bodies with short, stocky limbs, and both the European mole and Marsupial mole have a short tail to aid in burrowing. They lack external ears and their eyes are poorly developed and mainly hidden behind their fur. All three families of moles have long fur with an iridescent sheen. However, the fur of the marsupial mole and golden mole is very similar in colour, typically a silvery yellow or light pink. Due to these external similarities, it is essential for scientists to further examine their skeletal structures to better understand each family’s unique adaptations. Lifestyle/Burrowing: Moles are insectivores, meaning that they primarily eat earthworms and small invertebrates found in the soil, as well as a variety of nuts. Their bodies are adapted for burrowing, and they therefore spend most of their lives underground. Moles are very territorial, and will fight aggressively with members of either sex by wrestling using their foreclaws and biting at the abdomen. Moles have an acute sense of smell and mark their territory with urine that contains odorous substances produced by a pair of scent glands beneath the skin of the lower abdomen. Differences Despite their visual similarities, the 3 mole families vary greatly in behavior, and this is largely influenced by their habitat. Golden and European moles live in earthy soils, whereas the Marsupial mole lives in sandy deserts. Consistency of the substrate has a huge impact on tunnel building. The compact substrate inhabited by Golden and European moles allow the construction of permanent tunnels. Golden moles dig a 2-tier system of tunnels: the upper level is for hunting, and the lower layer is for nesting and raising young. European moles are also known to dig burrows to store food. The more loose, sandy substrate inhabited by Marsupial moles causes tunnels to collapse behind the mole as it goes along, giving the appearance that it swims through the sand. As for burrowing itself, all 3 families rely heavily on their paws and claws, but the golden mole also uses a tough snout to help break up Earth. Vibration detection is a very important sense for moles; it helps them find prey, avoid predators, and detect cave-ins. This vital sense is represented differently in each family. Golden moles have evolved a specialized, enlarged malleus for this purpose. European moles have vibrissa (whiskers) on their face, legs, and tail which sense vibration, and marsupial moles detect vibration in the middle ear.Lastly, golden and European moles exhibit placental reproduction, whereas their Australian counterparts are marsupials, with a unique backwards facing pouch to prevent dirt entering whilst digging. The European Mole The most noticeable skeletal differences in moles are the proportions and position of the bones of the pectoral girdle and the bones associated with it, and that's
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