Indiana wildlife trapper has found rare star-nosed moles

KOKOMO, Ind. (AP) — It looks like something out of a horror movie. It has 44 teeth and is the world’s fastest eating mammal, slurping down a juicy earthworm in about 6 seconds. And it’s probably in your backyard, deep in the frozen earth, digging around with its meaty claws, seeing only with its 22 tentacle-like nose appendages.

It’s a star-nosed mole. And it’s made its way into Central Indiana.

‘I thought it was deformed or something’

Then-14-year-old Deric Beroshok was farming at a new property one day. The property had an old barn on it, and inside he discovered a treasure trove for a hunter — traps. Lots and lots of traps.

“There were rusted, old traps. No one knew who they belonged to — some farmhand probably left them there,” Beroshok remembered. “So I started trapping. I didn’t know what I was doing and made all kinds of mistakes, but I was still learning.”

He started out small, trapping groundhogs for farmers, but then “word got out like wildfire.”

Beroshok, who has been a patrolman with the Kokomo Police Department for the past 28 years, turned that hobby into a thriving business, Wildlife Control Services.

“Business is booming like crazy,” he said. “I work 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the police department, and then at 2 o’clock I go home, change clothes and I trap ’til dark.”

Beroshok and his three employees stay busy no matter what the season, providing nuisance control for wide variety of pesky animals like geese, squirrels and raccoons.

The biggest money-maker by far is moles, he said.

But, when Wildlife Control Services first started, Beroshok didn’t offer any mole-trapping services.

“I didn’t know anything about moles,” he said. “I was getting calls and I told people on the phone, ‘Look, I don’t do moles, I just do certain animals,’ and I realized I was turning down a lot of calls.”

Beroshok bought a mole trap just to experiment with it. He owned a large horse pasture and went out to try his hand at the trap.

“I set up a trap — I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just followed the instructions,” he said. “Then I moved over about 5 feet to set another trap. As I was there setting the second trap, I heard something. I looked over and my trap had went off! I thought, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me,’ and sure enough, I walked over there and had a mole that fast.”

Now, more than half of the calls he receives are about a mole infestation.

Eighty percent of the moles Beroshok traps are the regular eastern mole, what most people think of when they think of what the burrowing rodent would look like. But the other 20 percent, well, that’s the stuff of nightmares.

“The first one that I caught, I pulled it out and thought, ‘What in the world is wrong?’ I thought it was deformed or something,” Beroshok said. “It was the ugliest-looking thing I’ve ever seen.”

World’s fastest eating mammal

Star-nosed moles are never going to be known as the world’s cuddliest creature, so world’s fastest eater may have to be its consolation prize.

Dr. Ken Catania, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University, has been researching star-nosed moles for more than two decades. It was his research that led to the fascinating animal being inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2005.

The Condylura cristata — the scientific name for a star-nosed mole — can identify its food as edible, capture it and eat it in an average of 230 milliseconds, Catania discovered. The fastest time was recorded at 120 milliseconds. In comparison, the Guinness Book of World Records said it takes humans 650 milliseconds to respond to a red light while driving.

But that world-record eating has nothing to do with the star-nosed mole’s 44 teeth.

Instead, most of its speed is thanks to the appendages that give the star-nosed mole its name. The 22 fleshy tentacles at the end of its nose are equipped with 25,000 Eimer’s organs, making it the most sensitive touch organ of any mammal. So the functionally blind mammal doesn’t necessarily smell its prey — it feels it.

“Those tentacles sticking out are almost like whiskers on a catfish,” Beroshok said. “They almost look like their nose went through a shredder.”

Despite a vastly different nose, star-nosed moles primarily live off of grubs and earthworms like the regular eastern mole, said Tony Carroll, District 2 biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. However, star-nosed moles are semi-aquatic mammals that mostly inhabit wetlands — near bodies of water or other poor-drainage areas — where they are able to smell underwater.

“From my understanding and what I know about them, when they are near a body of water they will actually do more foraging under the water surface than they do underground in drier areas. That was something that was surprising to me when I first learned that,” Carroll said. “They spend quite a bit of time underwater foraging for aquatic insects and have been known to eat small crustaceans, small fish and leeches.”

The star-nosed mole’s wetland habitat is part of the reason why they are a species of special concern in Indiana.

“Indiana’s land masses are less than 1 percent wetlands and over the years — for desired land-use practices — wetlands have been drained,” Carroll said. “We are still losing wetlands to some degree.”

Incidental trappings, like the ones conducted by Beroshok to remove nuisance animals from yards, does not impact their general population, Carroll continued.

This specific subspecies of moles are typically only found in the northeastern section of the Hoosier state, but they have been found as far west as South Bend and as far south as Indianapolis. They are more commonly found in eastern Canada and the New England area, yet do not hibernate during the harsh winters.

“They are either eating, digging or sleeping — they don’t hibernate, they just go below the frost line,” Beroshok said.

With the recent warm temperatures and heavy rains, the moles are more likely to be closer to the surface where the worms are, Beroshok continued. That’s when people start calling him about mole tunnels tearing up their yards.

If you happen to come across the rare star-nosed mole yourself this spring, don’t worry — it’s not injured, and it most likely doesn’t want to be in your yard. It wants to be near water.

“It gives the appearance that something is wrong with that mole and it’s not natural, but it is natural,” Carroll said.