Moles are small mammals that belong to the Talpidae in Soricomorpha family. They are most often found in North America, Asia and Europe. With a cylindrical shaped body, they have soft fur, small eyes and ears that are basically invisible, short legs that are really strong, and really large paws that are adapted for digging.
Description and distribution
Moles can grow on average from 11.3 to 15.9 centimetres, from snout to rump, and weigh 72 to 128 grams. Small as they are, they can be powerful, as with the help of their long, curved claws, moles can easily burrow underground and build intricate tunnels. As mentioned above, they have small eyes, but they are not blind, as most people think. Their eyes in internal ears are small, in order to prevent them from getting clogged with dirt while digging. Their eyesight is poor indeed, but they are able to distinguish light from dark and also movement. However, they compensate through their pink snout, which is covered in tiny nerves that detect movement and also the scent of prey. Their most powerful sense is thus the one of smell, with the star-nosed mole being the best example for this. It is easily identifiable by the twenty-two pink appendages on its snout which are used as touch organs and have more than 25,000-minute sensory receptors, helping the mole to feel its way around.
There are around 20 different species of moles known today, and they can be found spread through Europe, Asia, South Africa and North America. Some are aquatic, and some are only semi-aquatic, spending at least some of their time in water. Also depending on their specie, the colour of their fur can differ from brown, and grey, to black and white.
Breeding and dietary information
Moles are omnivores, but their favourite food are earthworms, and their preferred habitats are woodlands, grasslands and farmland. Due to their diet, moles are considered pests, as they often destroy gardens in search of their favourite food. Besides earthworms, moles also eat other small invertebrate insects they can find in the soil, but also a variety of nuts. Their tunnels work as worm traps, as the mole senses when a worm has fallen into its tunnel and can quickly run along and kill it. They can also store the earthworms for later, due to their saliva which contains a toxin that paralyses. This helps them store their still-living pray and consume it later. Another interesting thing they do with their pray, is that before eating the worms, moles tend to pull them between their squeezed paws in order to force the earth and dirt out of the worm’s gut.
When it comes to the breeding season of moles, it usually starts in February and lasts until May. Males attract the females through high pitched squeals and by tunnelling in foreign areas. After attracting the female and mating, the gestation period that follows can last up to 42 days. The young are born in March or early April, with three to five being born in a litter. The pups do not stay long with their mother, as they leave the nest to find their own territories after only 30-45 days. As moles are not social creatures, they come together only to mate. Although territories can develop, moles normally avoid each other, but males are able to fiercely fight in the off chance that they meet.
In the old times moles were known as mouldywarp, a word that comes from Norwegian or German and loosely translates to the one that throws dirt around. Moles can tolerate a high level of carbon dioxide, way higher than other mammals. This is because their blood cells have a special protein in the haemoglobin, making moles able to reuse oxygen that they have already inhaled. This is why they are able to survive in environments that are really low in oxygen, like underground tunnels. Moles feed off worms mostly, but they also eat other insects that they might find underground and sometimes even nuts.
The saliva of the mole contains a toxin that paralyses worms, this is why they can store the worms and eat them later, the meal will still be fresh because the worms will still be alive. They even build special tunnels to serve as storage units, these storage spaces can have up to 1000 worms in them. Before eating the worms, the moles will squeeze them for the dirt in their intestines to be expelled.
Moles as pests
Although not so often currently, there was a time when moles were heavily hunted for their pelts. Their fur has a velvety texture not found in other surface animals, mainly due to the fact that it is short and very dense.
Moles are still considered agricultural pests due to their diet. However, nowadays, they are a protected species, and a permit is needed for their killing. The main issue when dealing with a mole infestation, is the molehills they create and leave behind. With their tunnel digging, they can disturb the roots of plants, contaminate silage with soil particles, cover pasture with fresh soil, thus affecting its yield, and expose stones which can affect agricultural machinery. They can also damage young plants by disturbing the soil they are rooted in, create weed invasions, or damage watercourses and drainage systems. Due to the tunnels created near the surface, it can collapse when the ground is soft after heavy rain.
When it comes to yards and lawns, the molehills left behind are costly and can even end up killing parts of the lawn. Even though moles do not eat the roots of plants, by burrowing underneath them, they can create real damage to lawn and crops.
Moles can be either be repelled through different organic or chemical methods, or, if allowed by the law in your area, they can even be trapped. The most often used traps are the humane ones, which allow you to relocate the mole to a different area. Moles can also be prayed on by birds, reptiles and bigger mammals when they are on the surface. However, when underground, they are mostly safe from harm.
When dealing with a mole infestation, it is important to know that they are solitary animals, so you might be dealing with only one or two individuals. Also important is the fact that they can be beneficial to your garden, as they eat the earthworms that can themselves cause issues in your garden. However, if you consider you indeed need to remove them from your property, carefully check the laws in your area, to see which is the best method of removal that you can apply. For more details on ways in which you can prevent an infestation from happening, read our relevant article ‘Prevent infestation with Moles’, and for details on ways in which to eliminate these pests, you can find relevant elimination methods in our article about ‘How to get rid of Moles’.