|Although it is seldom seen, the velvety-coated
mole is one of the best known small mammals. Living almost entirely underground,
surface molehills are the only tell tale signs of its presence. Most common
in grassland and pasture, European moles are found at sea level and at
high altitudes in almost every type of soil. But they avoid areas where
the soil is very rocky, waterlogged, or acidic. They are well adapted for
their underground life.
Habits: Moles are active during the day and night, digging their tunnels and searching for food. Mole tunnels vary in depth from just below the surface to 28 inches beneath the ground. When moles dig close to the surface, they make piles of dirt called molehills. The tunnels must be located in suitable sites to avoid flooding, as young moles often drown during heavy rain. Each mole occupies its own network of underground passages that extend 100 to 165 feet. Moles spend four hours at a time looking for food in their tunnels, after which they spend an equal amount of time resting.
The territories of several moles may overlap slightly, but the moles will avoid each other unless it is breeding season. Some scientists believe that moles mark their tunnels with scent from their bellies as they travel along underground. Moles have long claws on each forefoot for digging and short strong “arms.” The hind feet press against the tunnel sides when digging. Above ground it moves using the hind feet and inside edges of the forefeet.
Breeding: Moles have an exceptionally short breeding season; the male goes to the female’s tunnel, where mating takes place. He then leaves the female and she raises the young alone. Birth takes place from April to June, and the young are born in a special nest chamber dug by the female. Naked at birth, the young develop rapidly, feeding on their mother’s milk. They are covered with fur after 14 days and are ready to leave the nest after 35 days. The usual mole litter has four young.
Food and Feeding: Earthworms are the mole’s staple food, although it also eats large quantities of insect larvae and slugs. It locates food by traveling along its tunnels and feeding on whatever worms or insects it finds. A mole requires a very large intake of food, eating half of its body weight in food every day. During the fall and winter, when earthworms are plentiful, the mole catches them, bites off their heads, and pushes them into the ground to eat later. The mole does not have a good sense of smell, nor can it hear very well. Instead, it is extremely sensitive to touch and is able to sense minute vibrations in the soil around it. Its snout is covered by thousands of tiny hairs that transmit information about its surroundings. The mole’s incisors, or cutting teeth, are small but sharp. Its chewing teeth are of variable sizes. Most feeding occurs underground, and worms form the largest part of its diet.
Related Species: There are 29 species of
mole, desman, and shrew mole, including Russian desman, Desmana moschata,
star nosed mole, Condylura cristata, found in North America, and Mediterranean
mole, Talpa caeca.
Molehills and Mole Features: A large molehill
is usually a sign of a nest chamber beneath. The nest will be safely tucked
away close to the food store.
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