Moles are small mammals that are found all over the world. They are often thought of as garden pests, mainly because of their intricate tunnel systems. And though they spend most of the time underground, they are not blind.
These rotund animals have a hairless, pointed snout, small eyes and no visible ears. On average, moles grow to 4.4 to 6.25 inches (11.3 to 15.9 centimeters) long from snout to rump. Their tails add 1 to 1.6 inches (2.5 to 4 cm) of length. They typically weigh 2.5 to 4.5 ounces (72 to 128 grams), according to the Mammal Society.
The American species is a little on the larger side. The North American mole species tends to get as big as 7 inches (17.6 cm) long, 1.25 inches (3.3 cm) tall and weighs around 4 ounces (115 grams), according to the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.
Moles are found on every continent except Antarctica and South America. They live in grasslands, urban areas, gardens, grasslands, sand dunes, mixed woodland or any area that has soil where they can dig tunnels. They do tend to stay away from areas with acidic soil and mountainous areas, though, according to The Young People’s Trust for the Environment (YPTE).
Moles use tunnels to travel, but tunnels are more than just underground highways. Moles dig special chambers at the ends of tunnels that serve as bedrooms and birthing areas. Sometimes moles will live in a series of tunnels for generations before moving.
Moles have kitchens, as well, in tunnel chambers. They eat mostly earthworms, and keep them alive and immobile by biting their heads, and then store them in the chamber. As many as 470 worms have been recorded in one chamber, according to the Mammal Society.
Moles spend most of their lives alone and underground in their tunnels. Moles are such loners, in fact, that three to five moles per acre (7 to 12 hectares) is considered a lot, according to Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management.
Moles spend their time digging tunnels and hunting for food. A permanent tunnel is usually about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter and 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm) below the surface, while temporary tunnels are usually right under the surface of the ground.
It is a misconception that moles burrow into gardens to eat the roots of plants. They are actually after the earthworms that are found in garden soil. Moles love earthworms so much that they eat nearly their body weight worth of earthworms per day. For example, a mole weighing 2.8 ounces (80 g) eats around 1.7 ounces (50 g) of earthworms per day, according to the Mammal Society. Moles also consume insect larvae.
During breeding season, males will enlarge their tunnel to more territories to find females to mate with. Once the breeding is done, a spherical nest chamber lined with dry plant material is created.
A female mole gives birth to three to four hairless babies at a time. By 14 days old, the mole babies, called pups, will start to grow hair. At four to five weeks, the pups are weaned, and at 33 days they leave the nest. By five to six weeks, pups leave their mother and their home tunnel completely. Moles typically live three years, according to YPTE.
Contrary to popular belief, moles are not rodents. Here is the taxonomy of the mole, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS).
Within the Talpid family, there are three subfamilies — Scalopinae (New World moles), Talpinae (Old World moles) and Uropsilinae (shrew moles). Moles are further divided into eight tribes, 17 genera and 39 species, including:
- Condylura cristata (star-nosed mole)
- Scalopus aquaticus (Eastern moles)
- Scapanus latimanus (broad-footed mole)
- Neurotrichus gibbsii (American shrew mole)
- Mogera tokudae (Sado mole)
- Scaptonyx fusicaudus (long-tailed mole)
- Euroscaptor longirostris (long-nosed mole)
- Parascaptor leucura (white-tailed mole)
- Scaptochirus moschatus (short-faced mole)
- Uropsilus investigator (inquisitive shrew mole)
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resource (IUCN), most moles are not endangered, though there are a few exceptions. The population of Japan's Etigo mole’s (Mogera etigo, considered by some to be a subspecies of Mogera tokudae), for example, is declining and severely fragmented, earning it a list on the endangered species list. The population of Sado mole (Mogera tokudae), which is found only on Sado Island in Japan, is stabilizing but is listed as near threatened.
Moles come in a range of colors. They can have black, cream, grey, orange, white and piebald colors, according to the YPTE.
The naked mole rat and other mole rats aren’t moles at all. They are part of the Rodent family.
Moles aren’t blind, but they are colorblind and see very poorly. They can only see light and movement. They use little movement and scent sensors on the tip of their nose to find prey and other moles.