Meet the Marsupial Mole

By Matthew Hardcastle
BU News Service

Creative Commons license
Creative Commons license

The marsupial mole is a particularly remarkable example of evolutionary convergence between marsupial and placental mammals. The constraints of living underground have led marsupial moles down the same path as digging placentals, particularly the golden mole in Africa (which isn’t actually a true mole either).

The marsupial mole gave taxonomists some confusion due to its unusual suite of anatomical features, remote habitat in Australia, and its scarcity in the fossil record. The two living species are currently classified in their own Order, distantly related to more familiar marsupials like kangaroos and koalas.

The marsupial mole is extremely adapted to underground living. It does not maintain permanent burrows like true moles; instead it fills its tunnels behind it as it digs, in some cases “swimming” through sand like the sandworms from Dune. Spending most of its life underground, its eyes are completely vestigial, covered by skin and fur. It has no external ears, fused neck vertebrae for improved rigidity, and a horny shield on its nose. The females pouch faces backwards to keep it from filling with sand.

Very little is known about the marsupial mole’s biology. The IUCN lists them as data deficient.

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