Star-nosed Mole

Associated Smithsonian Expert: Darrin P. Lunde, M.A.

Darrin Lunde on an expedition to the Bandalla Hills of South Sudan in the summer of 2013

Courtesy of Oliver Bench

Darrin Lunde is Collections Manager in the Division of Mammals at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. The Mammal Collection is the largest collection of its kind in the world. Darrin started his career by building his own natural history museum when he was just ten years old, and by the time he went to college, he had mastered specimen preservation. After graduating from Cornell University, Darrin was hired by the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he stayed for twenty years joining field expeditions to the remote corners of South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. He has discovered dozens of new species and shed light on hundreds of other lesser known mammals. Darrin earned a Master of Arts from the City University of New York and much of his interest in museums stems from having grown up in "nature deprived" New York City. To Darrin, museum collections are an important link to nature, and he is driven by the thought that in another century museums may be our only connection to the wild animals we take for granted today. At the Smithsonian, Darrin continues a program of active field work with his goal being to illuminate the rich diversity of mammals with which we still share the world.

Meet our associated expert

This image was obtained from the Smithsonian Institution. The image or its contents may be protected by international copyright laws.

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Tiny, Buena Vista Lake ornate shrew (Sorex ornatus)
Courtesy of Stanislau, CSU, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, public domain

About Shrews, Moles, and Hedgehogs (Family Soricidae): Feeding

Shrews typically live on land, feeding mostly on insects, but also other small food such as worms or seeds. Some are specialized for life in trees or underground, but most sniff around on the forest floor. Because shrews have high metabolic rates, even above what you'd expect for such a small animal, they eat nearly their own body weight in food every day. To get more nutrients and calories, they eat their own feces (refection). Their vision is poor, and they use their good senses of smell and hearing to find food. When they find moving prey, some shrews immobilize it with venom dispensed through grooves in their teeth. While a bite from a venomous shrew does not kill a human, it can cause painful inflammation, which explains why people are described as shrews if they are painfully ill-tempered. Shrew venom is potent and has possible medical applications, such as in the treatment of migraines.

When not nursing, young silky sifakas (Propithecus candidus) often ride on their mothers' backs
Courtesy of Jeff Gibbs, via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA

About Mammals (Class Mammalia): Body Plan

Mammals are named for their special milk-producing structures called mammary glands. A female mammal may have two (like humans) or as many as 18 mammary glands. Each gland is full of small spaces lined with milk-secreting cells that all drain into a nipple. Newborn mammals have an innate sucking reflex that stimulates the mother's mammary glands to release milk. Milk is a superfood for young mammals, containing a nourishing mix of fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals, and even immune-system chemicals. The first milk (colostrum) contains antibodies from the mother to protect against disease. As the offspring grows, milk changes to maintain the right balance of nutrients. Production of milk (lactation) makes most female mammals temporarily unable to get pregnant, resulting in natural gaps between offspring. The spacing of births benefits both the offspring and the mother in terms of survival. Mother mammals stop nursing (wean) their babies after several days or years, depending on the species and environmental conditions.