By Andy Rathbun
St. Paul Pioneer Press
From a killer songbird that impales its victims to a strange-looking mole that can smell underwater, Minnesota is full of unusual wildlife. Here are seven odd Minnesota-dwelling creatures you may not have known about.
Star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata)
No, that’s not a sea anemone on the face of the star-nosed mole. This distinctive animal has 22 hyper-sensitive tendrils extending from its nose that help it identify the invertebrates that make up much of its diet. Once found, prey is quickly gobbled up - so fast, in fact, that the Guinness Book of World Records has named the star-nosed mole the fastest eating mammal on the planet. The mole is also semi-aquatic and uses air bubbles to smell items underwater. The star-nosed mole has a range that extends through much of Minnesota.
American eel (Anguilla rostrata)
The American eel has weak jaws and small teeth, but that doesn’t stop it from getting a meal. Adults spin their bodies to break apart food and have been recorded spinning six to 14 times a second - faster than an Olympic figure skater. These eels also travel great distances. They are born in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean and can migrate more than 2,900 miles to Minnesota, where they are generally found in the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers.
Loggerhead shrike (Lanius ludovicianus)
A predatory songbird, the loggerhead shrike has been known to impale its prey on sharp objects like thorns and barbed wire. The impaled prey might be eaten immediately, saved for a later meal, or used by males to attract a mate. While the loggerhead shrike’s diet mostly consists of insects, it will also eat other birds and mammals and can kill and can carry prey as large as itself. This species of shrike is sometimes confused with the northern shrike, which can be found in Minnesota in the winter months. The shrike’s summer range extends through much of Minnesota.
Paddlefish (Polyodon spathula)
A long, paddle-like snout makes the paddlefish easily identifiable. It was initially believed the snout - called a rostrum - was used to dislodge or dig for food, but the large-mouthed fish was later found to be a filter feeder that eats plankton. Helping it find the plankton are sensors in its rostrum that detect tiny electromagnetic signals. In Minnesota, paddlefish are mostly limited to the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers.
Plains hog-nosed snake (Heterodon nasicus)
One thing that makes this snake unique is its acting ability. If threatened, this snake species may fake its own death by writhing around, flipping over onto its back, opening its mouth, letting its tongue hang out, and sometimes vomiting or defecating. It’s an Oscar-caliber performance, although the snake will occasionally break character to see if the threat has passed. The plains hog-nosed snake doesn’t pose a significant threat to humans, but a bite can cause some swelling and discoloration due to mildly toxic saliva. The plains hog-nosed snake has been found in several Minnesota counties, including in the metro.
Grey tree frog (Hyla versicolor)
This frog species is common in much of Minnesota and is often found in swampy areas. It has the unique ability to partially freeze during the winter - a handy trait for life in Minnesota. Large amounts of glycerol are produced by the frog to protect its body during the freezing process, but its heart, breathing and other vital functions can stop. Once it thaws, the frog will reanimate.
Short-trailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda)
The short-tailed shrew is one of a few mammals known to produce toxic saliva. Salivary glands produce a poison that is secreted from a duct at the base of the short-tailed shrew’s lower incisors. This neurotoxin can stun or paralyze prey, allowing the shrew to store it for a later meal, and the toxin can even cause respiratory failure and death in small mammals. The shrew consumes a variety of animal and plant species, and it must eat continuously or else risk starvation. The short-tailed shrew’s range extends throughout the state.