For fans of Kenneth Grahame’s classic The Wind in the Willows, mention of a mole conjures up images of a quaint bespectacled creature renowned for his loyalty to his friends. However, to most residents of Europe, Britain and the US, moles are simply pesky animals that leave behind untidy molehills, destroy crops and fields, and damage tree roots and plants with their burrowing.
Neither conception does justice to the remarkable physical traits of the mole. Classified in the family Talpidae and the insect-eating order Insectivora, moles have an array of design features perfect for their subterranean lifestyle.
They have compact bodies, perfect for moving quickly through tunnels; large front paws with broad, sharp, hard claws that face backwards and are used like a shovel for digging;1 and a short stubby tail that is sometimes used as a lever.2 Moles have a cone-shaped muzzle for probing for insects in the dirt,2 made even more efficient by a sensitive nose. Their velvety fur moves in both directions, minimizing resistance1 when they change direction inside a tunnel, and their eyes are small and partially covered in skin,2 protecting them from dirt. Most moles have no external ears,1 again minimizing the potential for the dirt of their homes to become a nuisance.
Moles may, depending on the species, grow to be between 100 and 200 mm (4–8 in) in length. They live almost their entire lives underground, excavating a series of tunnels at various depths. They are active day and night in rapid cycles of work and rest. They dig tunnels near the surface in search of earthworms, grubs and other insects, and create deeper tunnels in which to live that are about 3 m (10 ft) below the surface. Because of their vigorous activity, moles have voracious appetites, and a single animal may consume more than its weight in food daily.1
The mole is arguably the most efficient excavating mammal on the planet. It digs with a breast-stroke style of motion, made possible because its front limbs are set on opposite sides of its shoulders and are rotated,1 enabling the animal to dig sideways. Each spade-like paw has five toes, all with sharp claws (the shrew-mole, with its webbed paws, is the exception).3
When digging, the mole brushes dirt within reach of its back legs, and then kicks the soil away to keep the work area clean. It will frequently turn around in the tunnel and push the excavated dirt up to the surface, creating those trademark molehills.
Moles have thick fur that stands up straight (rather than lying flat as in most other mammals). It brushes backwards and forwards as the mole moves around the tunnel, which prevents the fur from rubbing the wrong way and trapping dirt in the velvety coat. The fact that each mole hair is thicker at the base than the tip enhances the mole’s protection against dirt and water.3
It’s an alien—no, it’s a Star-nosed Mole
The most sensitive organ of the mole is its nose, which provides most of its sensory information. This is particularly the case for the Star-nosed Mole. North America’s only semi-aquatic mole, it is perhaps one of the most bizarre-looking creatures in the world today. This mole has a nose with 22 ‘tentacles,’ giving it a snout that is more mobile, complex and touch-sensitive than even the elephant’s trunk.4 The Star-nosed Mole uses these 22 tentacles to scan its environment with a rapid series of touches, too fast for our eyes to see, and, during a laboratory test, one subject was able to find five separate pieces of earthworm in a single second.5
Research has found that these fleshy appendages are not used for smell. Rather, ‘the star, like the retina of the human eye, is made up entirely of sensory organs,’6 which in this case are tactile (touch) receptors. More than 25,000 of these incredibly specialized papillae (projections) called Eimer’s organs make up the star, supported by more than 100,000 nerve fibres that carry information to the central nervous system5 (see Superb sense organ sheds light on alleged eye imperfection below).
Some scientists believe the Star-nosed Mole evolved its specialized appendages over time. This is based on the way in which the star develops in the embryo (the star is initially embedded in the mole’s face, then slowly breaks free from the skin; two weeks after birth the appendages bend forward to form the adult star). This, they say, suggests that ‘ancestral star-nosed moles might have had strips of sensory organs lying flat against the sides of the snout. These might have been slowly raised up over many generations until the star was formed.’7
First, this presupposes the discredited idea of Embryonic Recapitulation.8 Second, why would a ‘primitive’ mammal suddenly start to develop such a specialized appendage? If it was already successfully hunting food without the star, what was the evolutionary ‘trigger’ for the star’s development? Surely such a complex organ was not the product of random mutations, filtered by selection?
While the Star-nosed Mole certainly has the most sensitive snout among moles, other moles still possess a highly efficient nose, which they rely upon rather than eyesight to hunt prey. Moles have very small eyes, and are renowned for being ‘blind.’ In fact, they have a tiny membrane that covers their eyes, protecting them from dirt while digging. While not entirely blind, they do have very poor eyesight, which it seems they use only to sense light at the surface.
Encyclopaedia Britannica describes the mole’s eyes as ‘vestigial.’1 In other words, the eyes are evolutionary ‘left-overs’ the mole no longer needs because of its underground existence, where there is little light. However, even though such a loss of information is quite feasible in a biblical creation scenario, there is no evidence to indicate moles ever possessed full eyesight. It is quite feasible that they have always possessed the level of sight they have today, which is perfectly suited for their dark environment.
There are 22 species of ‘true’ moles, most of which live entirely underground. The exceptions are desmans (small creatures with paddle-like hindfeet and a long snout), which are aquatic; the semi-aquatic Star-nosed Mole; and the shrew-moles, the smallest of all moles, which are active foragers on the surface.9
There are also other burrowing animals with similar physical characteristics to true moles, such as the Golden Mole of Africa and the marsupial mole of Australia. The Golden Mole, like a true mole, is (near) blind, stout-bodied and almost tailless (with a light-coloured fur giving it its name), but has four toes, two with pick-like claws.10 Marsupial moles are described by Encyclopaedia Britannica as being ‘remarkably like true moles,’ with claws for digging, poor eyesight, blunt snout and stubby tail—except they are a marsupial (producing partly-developed young and carrying them in a pouch)—and don’t leave tunnels behind them as they burrow, requiring them to come up for air.11
Such similarities make sense as the product of the same Designer, who left a ‘biotic message’ that the similarities point to a single designer rather than many, but achieved these similarities in different ways to foil evolutionary explanations.12 For those who reject such an explanation, the idea that they are due to having the same ‘primitive ancestor’ doesn’t work, though, because marsupials and placentals13 are supposed to have diverged from their alleged common ancestor at a vastly different time. So they are explained as being the product of convergent or parallel evolution. In other words, similar specialized features developed independently through completely unrelated evolutionary lines, relying on blind chance to develop similar responses to similar environments. This is, however, an ad hoc theory with no supporting evidence.
What of the fossil record? Prominent evolutionary paleontologist Barbara Stahl has said that the early history of the modern insectivores (the group to which the mole belongs) is ‘unclear.’14 So-called Tertiary rocks show many families within the group, but from this record ‘it has proved difficult to derive an evolutionary scheme.’ Which is not surprising, considering that from the Creator’s eyewitness testimony, moles did not arise from non-moles.
The reality concerning the origin of the mole is this: moles have always been moles. The variation between true moles (which include the remarkable Star-nosed Mole) and other mole-like creatures, such as the Golden Mole and marsupial moles, is simply a reflection of different created kinds. They are not the product of convergent evolution—nor any kind of evolution.
It’s important to remember that sense organs, by themselves, are useless. They transmit sensory information to the brain, which must then interpret it. And the star of the Star-nosed Mole works with the brain very much like our eyes do, to make very efficient use of the brain’s computing power.
Only a small (1°) part of the eye in the center, called the fovea, has very high resolution for fine detail. This has a higher density of receptors, and needs a much larger area of our brain to process its information. But most of the eye’s area is used for the peripheral (non-central) vision, which has much lower resolution, and therefore needs less brain processing power. You can understand this for yourself by trying to read this page without moving your eyes. Rather, normally the low-resolution parts of the eye detect objects of interest, and our eyes have unconscious motions (saccades) to aim our foveas on these objects.1 This way we can see the details of a wide area with minimal brain computing power.
The star also has a tactile (touch sense) ‘fovea’ and saccades.2 The bottom pair of tentacles above the mouth, although among the smallest, has a higher density of nerve endings, and by far the largest brain area involved in processing their information. This is like our fovea. The other tentacles are like our peripheral vision—they don’t provide as much detail, but they allow the moles to explore a wide area. And the super-fast nose movements are like our saccades—when the other tentacles locate an interesting object, the nose moves to bring the ‘fovea’ or super-sensitive bottom tentacles to feel its texture in detail. This enables it to find food very quickly.
There is even an example of an ‘acoustic fovea,’ i.e. with the sense of hearing. This is in echolocating bats. They have many receptors and much brain area devoted to a narrow sound frequency (‘pitch’) range roughly matching the ultrasound pulses the bat emits. But echos of moving objects have a different frequency, therefore the bat’s ‘fovea’ might miss them. So the bat also uses ‘sound saccades’—it’s always changing the pitch of the sound it emits, so that the echos become tuned to the ‘fovea.’3
These ingenious systems of fovea and saccades in three totally different senses are a remarkably efficient design. Scientific American’s article on the Star-nosed Mole explains them as ‘convergent evolution.’2 But there wasn’t the slightest effort to explain how this system could have evolved three times over by tiny steps, each with an advantage over its predecessor. Rather, the ‘explanation’ has nothing to do with science, and everything to do with materialistic bias.
These insights also enable us to refute some ‘bad design’ arguments. The German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, Darwin’s contemporary, claimed:
However, Helmholtz erred by treating the eye as a static instrument, ignoring its dynamic properties and the need for processing its information in the brain. In fact, if all parts of the eye had a resolution as high as the fovea’s, as per Helmholtz’s ‘superior’ design, then our brains would have to be 50 times larger to process this information! This would give only a minute advantage over our current system, but a major disadvantage in our being unable to fit through doorways.
Contrary to Helmholtz, modern science indicates that any optician or engineer who designed something remotely as good as the eye would probably win a Nobel Prize! As a scientist with much experience in state-of-the-art light detectors, I challenge Helmholtz’s supporters, such as Oxford’s Richard Dawkins, to design a better eye—with all the versatility of ours (colour perception, resolution, coping with range of light intensity, night vision as well as day vision, etc.).5 Return to main text.
Update: this information was incorporated into the books The Greatest Hoax on Earth? Refuting Dawkins on Evolution (2010, above left) and By Design: Evidence for Nature’s Intelligent Designer—the God of the Bible (above right).
One reader commented:
‘Just as a word of encouragement, I was reminded today at work of Dr Sarfati’s excellent most recent book. I am a systems engineer at an optical systems company. We make military optics. One of the technologies that is being studied in the industry is using eye tracking to only focus/process a small field of view in high resolution in order to minimize data processing requirements. This design mimics that of the eye that Dr Sarfati described. The fovea provides sharp vision narrowly to limit the required processing in the human brain. Engineers follow God’s design yet again.’
- The New Encyclopædia Britannica, 15th edition, 8:231, 1992. Return to text.
- Eastern Mole, 9 December 2002. Return to text.
- Mole pro, Physical traits of moles, 2 October 2002. Return to text.
- The mole tunnel, Star-nosed mole, 25 November 2002. Return to text.
- Catania, K.C., The nose takes a starring role, Scientific American 287(1):40, 2002. Return to text.
- Ref. 5, emphasis in original. Return to text.
- Ref. 5, p. 43. Return to text.
- Grigg, R., Ernst Haeckel: Evangelist for evolution and apostle of
deceit, Creation 18(2):33–36, 1996; Fraud rediscovered, Creation 20(2):49–51
1998, Embryonic Recapitulation Questions and Answers. Return to text.
- The mole tunnel, General biology, 2 October 2002. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, 5:341. Return to text.
- Ref. 1, 7:883. Return to text.
- ReMine, W.J., The biotic message, St. Paul Science, Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1993. Return to text.
- I.e. those which give birth to well-developed young, nourishing them in the womb via the placenta (afterbirth). Most mammals are placentals. Return to text.
- Stahl, B, Vertebrate History: Problems in Evolution, McGraw-Hill Inc. USA, p. 467, 1974. Return to text.