Star-nosed Mole

Friday 23 February, 20.00–21.00 on FIVE

Ending its run this evening is the fascinating wildlife documentary series in which naturalist Nick Baker scours the world for the strangest creatures in the animal kingdom. In this final programme, Nick is on the trail of the fastest – and strangest – nose in natural history.

The creature in question is the star-nosed mole and, as ever, Nick first heads to the Natural History Museum to find out more about its background and lifestyle. He learns that its strange ‘nose’ actually has more to do with touch than with smell, allowing it to assess and devour a small food item in less than quarter of a second. The mole eats many thousands of such morsels a day, fuelling a rapacious metabolism.

To see the creature in its natural habitat, however, Nick must travel to Manitoba, Canada – one of the world’s greatest wildernesses. The first step of his trip entails stocking up on mosquito repellent, mesh ‘bug jackets’, anti-bear pepper spray, and waders – purchases that hint at the unpleasantness of the environment he will be working in. He also picks up 500 earthworms to use as bait.

Then it’s off to his final destination: Bird Lake, Nopiming, around 150 km northeast of Winnipeg. “This is the Canada you see in the movies,” he says of the stunning landscape. “It’s the land of the moose, the elk, the loon and the bear.” But the animal he is looking for is more elusive, living entirely beyond human view. Its specific habitat requirements – marshy land with good cover – mean that filming one will involve catching it in a trap. Nick is given a quick lesson in the art of the mole trap by University of Manitoba zoologists Kevin Campbell and Roman Gusztak, and the three spend a sweaty afternoon in waders and rubber gloves, digging holes for the 40–50 traps they plan to set. Nick, while complaining of the hot, mosquito-ridden conditions, is briefly cheered when he notices “a really sexy spider”.

After a punishing day’s digging, all that remains is to wait until nightfall, when the team return to see if their traps are full. Unfortunately, the rainy conditions seem to have put off the star-nosed moles, and a couple of shrews are all the team has to show for its efforts. They plan to give it another go next day, although Nick heads for bed in the grim knowledge that this will mean another few hours of digging.

Determined to make the most of the next day, the crew don’t restrict themselves to trap-setting, but also look out for some of the bigger icons of the Northern Forest – bears and beavers. In fact, there is so much wildlife here that Nick doesn’t know where to look next.“I could sit here for ages,” he grins while surveying a nearby toad. “I’m having biodiversity meltdown!”

But once night falls, he is in a more sober mood as he heads back to check the traps again. The team has done all it can and now, in a dank, bugridden swamp, Nick could be about to meet the creature he has described as ‘Wind in the Willows’ meets ‘Alien’…

About the author

  • Anonymous

    Later on, after the programme, an air freshener advert appeared featuring the star nosed mole, with its snout in the air, suggesting that it was sniffing the pong, but we know from the programme that the star “nose” hasn’t smell sensors.

  • BBC One
  • BBC Two
  • BBC Three
  • ITV1
  • ITV2
  • 4
  • E4
  • Film4
  • More4
  • Five
  • Fiver
  • Sky1