Scientific Name: Family Talpidae
Description: Moles are small, burrowing mammals. Their eyes are poorly developed, but what they lack in sight, they make up for in their sense of touch. All of them have very sensitive snouts and long, clawed digits which they use to dig tunnels. The 22 tentacle-like protrusions on the snout of the star-nosed mole are six times more sensitive to touch than a human hand!
Rather than having fur that lays flat and points toward the tail like most mammals, eastern moles have dense fur that sticks straight up. This prevents soil from becoming trapped in their coats when they back up through a tunnel.
Size: Males are usually bigger than females, although most species don’t exceed 25 cm in length.
Diet: Moles are grouped into the category Insectivora, which means “insect eater.” Some species eat more than just insects, though. The star-nosed mole, for example, is a good swimmer and eats fish and aquatic invertebrates.
Typical Lifespan: Probably less than two years for most species.
Habitat: Moles are fossorial, meaning that they spend much of their life digging underground burrows. Moles are amazing tunnelers. Eastern moles can hollow out a 160 foot burrow in just one night. The equivalent would be an adult human digging a tunnel reaching a half mile in length in the same amount of time! Most species live in meadow, grassland, woodland, wetland, or riparian habitats. However some, like the desert shrew, can live in arid regions.
Range: Found in the eastern states and southern Great Plains. The shrew-mole is native to the west coast.
Life History and Reproduction: Female moles give birth to their young in underground tunnels. They grow quickly and can live independently at a young age.
Ever heard the expression “making a mountain out of a molehill?” When moles dig tunnels, all that dirt has to go somewhere—it gets piled in “molehills” near the entrance to the tunnel. These hills of dirt indicate that a mole is living nearby!
Conservation Status: Most species are stable. Landscapers sometimes consider moles to be pests, since they can damage lawns and gardens. These small animals are very important, however, for aerating the soil and eliminating harmful insects.