The largest member of the mole family, the desman has forsaken the underground for the aquatic life, although it does excavate short burrows as bank side residences.
Looking somewhat like a cross between a shrew and a mole, there are only two species of desman alive in the world today. The Pyrenean desman lives in northern Spain and Portugal, and its relative the Russian desman inhabits areas in Russia and eastern Europe.
Desmans have webbed feet and broad tails fringed with stiff hairs. These adaptations help them swim, and it is underwater that desmans do most of their hunting, feeling around with their long whiskers for prey items such as dragonfly larvae and tadpoles.
Like their close relatives the shrews, desmans must feed almost constantly to keep up their energy reserves.
These animals do not just swim; they also burrow, looking for worms. They tunnel into river banks, making networks of burrows which can extend for many metres. The entrances to the systems of tunnels are always located below the waterline, so that the desmans can come and go as they please, without having to worry about any predators that may be watching from above. There are many predators that will feed on desmans, including hawks, kestrels, foxes and weasels. Several desmans share the tunnel network, although they tend to have their own dens within the burrow.
Now much reduced in numbers, the desman is the subject of intensive conservation measures and there are projects to reintroduce the species in parts of its former range.
Distribution: South-western Russia and eastern Europe.
Habitat: Slow rivers and oxbow lakes.
Food: Aquatic invertebrates, including insects, amphibians, crustaceans and molluscs, and also fish and plant roots.
Size: 18 - 22 cm (7 - 8.75 in); 100 - 220 g (0.2 - 0.5 lb).
Maturity: 1 year.
Breeding: Litters of 1-5 young.
Life span: 2-3 years.