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Condlutr

During the evolution process low-specialized forms receive advantage in survival first of all. Due to absence of specialization they show a wide spectrum of variability and can occupy various ecological niches. Highly specialized species, on the contrary, can develop only aside the amplification of specialization. This principle is shown evidently by insectivorous mammals of mole family. In Neocene their specialized representatives have kept characteristic shape of digging animal, and evolution of unspecialized forms had resulted in completely unexpected results. In areas of temperate climate of North America one of unusual descendants of moles of Holocene epoch lives. The structure of muzzle gives out its origin: it is crowned up by long mobile proboscis which tip is surrounded with fleshy outgrowths. This animal is very large descendant of star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata) which leads semi-aquatic habit of life. The name of this animal, “Condylutra”, combines two names: “Condylura” – star-nosed mole (an ancestor of this species), and “Lutra” – otter (this animal partly replaces it in ecosystems).Condylutra represents the ecological analogue of platypus and mink – it is aquatic carnivore eating large invertebrates and small vertebrates. This is an animal of streamline shape up to 60 cm long not including tail; individuals from southern populations are smaller.  Head of condylutra is flat and lengthened, with low brain cavity. Eyes of this mammal are very small, and sight is bad. But this animal searches for prey under water not with the help of sight. Its main sensitive organ is long snout extended to flexible mobile proboscis and covered with naked pink skin. On tip of muzzle of its ancestor mobile sensitive shoots grew, helping to search for food. In evolution process condylutra had further improvement of this sensitive organ. Overgrown shoots of condylutra’s snout have electrosensitivity. With the help of this feature animal can search in muddy water for small animals by their electric field. External auricles at this animal are reduced, and small ear apertures are closed by reduction of special ring muscle at diving. Wool of condylutra is rich and velvety, colored grey. To give it the water-repellent properties animal regularly greases hair with oily liquid secreting by two large glands at the basis of tail. The animal finds a lot of time to look after wool, combing it by claws of hind legs. Condylutra leads aquatic way of life and is able to swim quickly. Diving for prey, animal can stay under water till about 5 minutes. Short (about 10 cm long) tail of condylutra is similar to beaver’s tail a little. It is rounded from sides, and its back edge is dulled. Tail is covered with dense rigid skin and thin hair; it helps to speed-up at swimming and is usually used, if it is necessary for animal to swim quickly, not turning off (for example, escaping from predator or banishing the congener). In this case condylutra swims with the help of wavy movements of backbone in vertical plane. For underwater hunting animal uses other style of swimming. Forepaws of condylutra are transformed to narrow paddles with well advanced claws; animal uses them when it is necessary to swim slowly and maneuverably, surveying places in which prey may hide. Diving for food, this animal digs out bottom by claws of forepaws, overturns snags and climbs among stalks of water plants. Also with the help of forepaws condylutra digs at the riverbanks and lake coasts long holes with several exits. The main exit opens right under water, and some emergency exits in case of flooding of hole or occurrence of predator lead to shelters and to the ground surface. Condylutra has kept predating habits of ancestor: it is exclusivaly carnivore. Teeth of condylutra are numerous (44 ones) and pointed. This animal eats any food of animal origin which may be found in water and near water: worms, molluscs, crayfishes and crabs, dead or weakened fish. Condylutra can ravage clutches and even attacks chicks of waterfowl, snatching them from under water. It is solitary species with primitive behaviour, not forming pairs even in courtship season. Each individual marks the territory with musky secretions and protects it from relatives. Pairing at this species takes place in early spring, after clearing of reservoirs from ice. In southern part of area the repeated courtship season occurs in second half of summer. Male searches for the female ready to pairing guiding by smell, pairs with it quickly and after pairing the female banishes him (she is larger and stronger, rather than male). Once a year (at the south of an area 2 times per year) the female gives rise to 4 – 5 cubs in deep hole. The nesting chamber is always above water level. Newborn cubs are naked and blind. They develop within 2 months, leave the female and lead independent life. Young animals become sexually mature at the age of 6 – 7 months: in southern parts of area young animals from the second litter already participate in pairing and give rise to posterity the next year. Life expectancy of condylutra does not exceed 5 years.

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