Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Poll: Is our star-nosed mole hotter than the NYT's star-nosed mole?

My last two posts have touched on aesthetics-- namely two specimens that paralleled things in our human world that most of us would find aesthetically pleasing. Here I'm going to touch on aesthetics again, but in the opposite direction-- namely a specimen that is ugly! Well, ugly according to the New York Times, at least.

About a month ago, the NYT ran an article about the science of ugliness that examined why we find some animals to be attractive and cute, and others repulsive and ugly. In it, the star-nosed mole, Condylura cristata, was the posterchild for ugly animals. Here's the image of it that they featured in the article:

The scientists who were interviewed explained that we tend to be repelled by the star-nosed mole because the pink nose causes us to identify with it-- that is, flesh color reminds us of a human face-- but at the same time it is not what a human face should look like, which makes us recoil. Here are some tidbits from the article that explain this more fully:

The more readily we can analogize between a particular animal body part and our own, the more likely we are to cry ugly. “We may not find an elephant’s trunk ugly because it’s so remote,” Dr. Dutton said. “But the proboscis on a proboscis monkey is close enough to our own that we apply human standards to it.”

As scientists see it, a comparative consideration of what we find freakish or unsettling in other species offers a fresh perspective on how we extract large amounts of visual information from a millisecond’s glance, and then spin, atomize and anthropomorphize that assessment into a revealing saga of ourselves.

Later in the article Dutton noted that “No one would find the star-nosed mole ugly if its star were iridescent blue". I don't know of any blue star-nosed moles, but here at Peabody VZ, we do have a star-nosed mole that is completely brown! YPM MAM 5852 was collected in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1940, and it's brown now because it has been preserved in ethanol, which has caused it to lose its pigmentation. Here are two pics:

So what do you think? Is this brown star-nosed mole as ugly as a live one with all of its pink and fleshy pigment? Or, without the flesh color, is it a bit easier on the eyes as the scientists from the article would predict? Please chime in! I think our museum specimen offers a fun test of their hypothesis.


  1. It's still not exactly easy on the eyes, but I think MUCH better. The color of the nose is more congruous with the rest of it, too.

  2. I think the brown is creepier. Looks like a spider...

  3. I think they're both adorable, but that might just be me...