Notoryctes – Marsupial moles

Functionally blind and without external ears, they “swim” through the soil, leaving no permanent burrow

These unique creatures, comprising the northern marsupial mole (Notoryctes caurinus) and the southern marsupial mole (Notoryctes typhlops), have evolved to live largely subterranean lives in the arid deserts of inner Australia. Their lifestyle and physical adaptations make them fascinating subjects of study in evolutionary biology and ecology.

Marsupial moles have developed several distinctive features that facilitate life beneath the surface. Their eyes, having regressed over millions of years of evolution, are now vestigial and covered with skin and fur, rendering the animals completely blind. This lack of vision, however, is compensated for by their other senses, such as touch and possibly hearing, which are enhanced to navigate the underground environment and detect prey. The ears of marsupial moles are not visible externally; instead, they are represented by tiny, fur-covered holes that minimize the ingress of sand while still allowing the detection of sound vibrations.

The physical form of marsupial moles is perfectly adapted to their digging lifestyle. Their bodies are streamlined and cylindrical, with a cone-shaped head to assist in moving through sand and soil. The forelimbs are equipped with large, spade-like claws, making them powerful diggers capable of tunneling through the earth in search of food. Their diet primarily consists of insects and larvae, which they locate and consume beneath the surface. After passing through an area, marsupial moles habitually backfill their tunnels, erasing their tracks and making it exceedingly difficult for researchers to study their behavior and population dynamics.

Despite their fascinating biology, marsupial moles remain one of the most poorly understood mammals due to their elusive nature and the challenging environment in which they live. Observations of these animals in the wild are rare, and much of what is known comes from the occasional specimen found above ground or from traditional Aboriginal knowledge.