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(Desmana moschata), a mammal of the desman family, order Insectivora. Solid conformation. Length, 20-22 cm. The neck is short and the head, conic, with an extended movable snout, the “proboscis.” The nostrils have flaps, and the eyes are rudimentary. There is no external ear. The extremities are five-toed and webbed to the claws. The tail is long (18-20 cm), flat on both sides, and covered with dark brown skin having scaly patterns and occasional stiff guard hairs. Below the base of the tail there are glands that produce musk, an oily substance with a strong and persistent odor; musk serves as a good lubricant, protects the fur against wetness, and apparently serves as a means of orientation under water. The fur of the desman is soft, silky, and very durable; it is dark gray-brown on the spine and silvery white on the belly. The desman is well-adapted to a water environment. It is a very ancient relic species endemic to the terri-tory of the USSR.
The natural range of the desman is limited to the basins of the Volga, Don, and Ural rivers. It leads an aquatic way of life. Usually desmans settle only in flooded lakes. They live in burrows with underwater exits. They feed mostly on animal life and some plant life. They prefer water insects, particularly their larvae, coelopodic mollusks, and leeches. The females have litters of one to five young.
Desmans have no natural enemies. The muskrat and the mink, which were acclimatized to the USSR and released within the desman’s range, became dangerous enemies. As a result of changes in flood landscapes (trees on which desmans wait out floods are being felled) and destruction by minks and muskrats, the number of desmans is rapidly falling. Well-organized and strict protection of the species is necessary. In the past the desman was a valuable commercial species.
REFERENCEL. P. Borodin. Russkaia vykhukhol. Saransk, 1963.
L. P. BORODIN