I think moles are interesting animals, though I can understand why some people dislike them in their gardens. The animals are well adapted for their subterranean lifestyle. I discovered the mole shown below on a trail that I take to get to my local shopping center. Unfortunately, it was dead. I never see the animals while they are alive, which I think is a shame. I see their mounds or mole hills, including ones near the animal that I discovered, but the moles themselves stay hidden underground.
The photo above shows a living coast mole feeding on an earthworm, which is believed to be the animal’s favorite food. It’s a small photo, but I thought it was nicer to start the article with a photo of a living animal than a dead one.
Moles belong to the class Mammalia (as we do), the order Eulipotyphla, and the family Talpidae. The animal in my photo is the coast or Pacific mole (Scapanus orarius). The very similar Townsend’s mole (Scapanus townsendii) is found near the area where I live in southwestern British Columbia, but its range is very limited in the province. The species is much less abundant than the coast mole and is endangered. The coast mole is also found in western Washington, Western Oregon, and northwestern California.
The living animals have a beautiful and velvety grey-black or brown-black coat. Their feet, short tail, and long snout aren’t covered by hair. Their front feet are well adapted for digging. They are large and wide and the digits have long claws. The feet face outward. The moles have no external ears, or pinnae, though they can hear. They do have eyes, but these are very small. The animals have poor vision, but their sense of touch is excellent.
The second photo of the mole below shows the tip of the nose better. This area contains small papillae, or bumps. The papillae are structures called Eimer’s organs. Research indicates that they are sensitive to touch.
Moles are said to be fossorial or subterranean animals because they are adapted for digging and live primarily underground. They are often found in moist soil, such as that found in riparian habitats or in meadows or forests, but they live in a wide variety of habitats. In some areas, they are found in sand dunes. The mole hills in my neighborhood are located near a creek. The University of Manitoba reference below says that a single coast mole can create 200 to 400 mole hills during winter.
The animals create tunnels at different depths and spend almost their entire life underground. Some researchers say that they may be occasionally seen above ground. They eat earthworms (as the first photo shows) as well as slugs and insects. They also eat some parts of plants, though to a much lesser extent. Earthworms appear to be the main component of their diet.
It’s interesting to think about the world below a mole hill. Moles usually create an extensive, multi-level tunnel system. The system contains horizontal and vertical tunnels as well as an expanded area for sleeping. If the surface layer becomes very dry, the animals will dig deeper to find moisture.
The activity of the moles can be beneficial for the soil. Their digging aerates it, helps to distribute nutrients, and also helps to drain water from the upper levels. The moles also eat some animals that can be a nuisance for us, such as slugs and insects. Unfortunately, depending on where they establish their tunnels, the moles can be a nuisance themselves. Their mole hills are unattractive and even awkward for people, especially in areas with lawns. In some areas, their underground activities may damage parts of plant that are important for humans.
It isn’t necessary to kill a mole that’s a nuisance. The animals can be removed from an area humanely if they need to be moved. In addition, steps to prevent a first or another invasion exist.
The last reference below is an article called “Living with wildlife: Moles.” In addition to giving facts about the coast mole, it describes ways to live with ones that we find on our property or in our neighborhood as well as other ways to deal with the animals. I think it’s a shame to kill the animals unless this is absolutely necessary. If it is necessary, I think it’s important that the animals are treated humanely.
- The Mole Tunnel (University of Manitoba)
- Scapanus orarius from Animal Diversity Web
- The structure and function of Eimer’s organ in the mole from EuropePMC
- Living with moles from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife