In February of 2012 my Fox Terrier caught an unusual ‘gift’ for us. Deposited on the deck was a gob sodden traumatised black mammal.
After rescuing the critter from our proud terrier, I grabbed my camera to photograph the gingerly unravelling bundle. Slowly the furry blob stretched out and took on the form of a eye less hamster with a pink nose.
Excitement gripped us. Here, before us was what we had only read about, a golden mole. Unlike it’s name, this variety was pitch black. That is until we studied the photos. Bathed in flash, the fur glistened with a shimmer of iridescent blue. This posed the question, what did a subterranean blind species require a pelt which flashed blue in white light?
Again in the first week of December we had the fortune to encounter another specimen crossing a rural gravel road in the Garden Route. As before, the flash photo revealed a glimmering pelt skewed to the blue spectrum.
A quick Web search provided the following information by Jennifer Viegas.
The fur of golden moles has multiple layers that act as reflectors similar to the “eye shine” of nocturnal mammals.
Golden moles are the first known iridescent mammals, aside from the “eye shine” of nocturnal mammals.
The moles are completely blind, so the iridescence likely serves a function other than communication.
The microscopic structure of the hairs may facilitate the mole’s movement underground through dirt and sand.
Golden moles live almost exclusively underground, beneath grassveld, forest, swamps, deserts, or mountainous terrain.
Aside from the “eye shine” of nocturnal mammals, seen when a headlight or flashlight strikes their eyes, the discovery marks the first known instance of iridescence in a mammal. The findings, published in the latest Royal Society Biology Letters, reveal yet another surprise: the golden moles are completely blind, so they cannot even see their gorgeous fur.
I would also like to propose that the iridescence of the pelt could be a simple product of natural selection. In the absence of light, predators do not see the glimmer of the mole and therefore it does not serve as an attraction and the trait remains in the gene pool in a similar manner to the florescent expression observed in scorpions exposed to UV light.