mole

mole, in zoology, common name for the small, burrowing, insectivorous mammals of the family Talpidae, found throughout the temperate Northern Hemisphere. Moles are trapped as pests, although they probably do less damage than the animals they destroy, and for their fur, which is highly valued.

Typical moles have rounded bodies about 6 in. (15.2 cm) long covered with soft black or gray fur; they have pointed muzzles and lack external ears. They have acute hearing and a highly developed sense of touch at the ends of their noses and tails; their tiny eyes, covered with skin or buried in fur, are sensitive to changes in light level but provide little visual acuity. Moles have short, powerful legs and extremely broad front feet, which are used as shovels and are equipped with enormous digging claws. They can move backwards almost as rapidly as forwards, and most are good swimmers.

Moles tunnel just below the surface of the ground, where they hunt for food. Their tunnels make ridges and mounds in fields, gardens, and lawns; quarters for living, nesting, and wintering are in deeper burrows. A single mole can dig about 20 yd (18 m) of tunnel in a day. Moles are voracious eaters, consuming about half their own weight daily. Their diet consists mainly of earthworms and insects, but also includes small mammals such as mice; one mole may even kill and eat another when they happen to meet. They are solitary most of the year, but during the breeding season they travel in pairs. The litter, born in the spring after four weeks of gestation, consists of two to seven young.

Typical species include the common European mole, Talpa europaea, and the eastern, or garden, mole of North America, Scalopus aquaticus, both about 6 in. (15.2 cm) long with a 1-in. (2.54-cm) tail. The largest moles are the western moles of North America, genus Scapanus, which may reach a length of 9 in. (22.9 cm). The smallest New World mole is the 3-in. (7.6-cm) shrew mole, Neurotrichus gibbsii, of the Pacific Northwest, which resembles a shrew and prefers a forest habitat, spending much time above ground. The strangest-looking of the family is the star-nosed mole, Condylura cristata, of northeastern North America, which has a ring of mobile fleshy protuberances around its snout. This mole is a good diver and leads a semiaquatic life; apparently it uses the protuberances to pick up sounds in the water.

There are no true moles in the Southern Hemisphere. The golden moles of S Africa are members of the insectivorous family Chrysochloridae; they are burrowing animals with bright golden fur. There are burrowing rodents in Africa called strand moles and burrowing marsupials in Australia called marsupial moles. True moles are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Soricomorpha, family Talpidae.

See study by K. Mellanby (1973).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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