Moles are elusive and interesting creatures. Often unseen, sometimes the only evidence of their existence are the mounds of soil and raised tunnels crisscrossing a nicely manicured lawn. Here are some facts about moles which you may not know!
There are 7 species of moles in the US. The two most common are the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaricus) and the star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata). Both occur east of the Rockies.
Moles are much larger than voles or mice, weighing approximately 4 ounces and and about 5 to 6 inches long, with the males (boars) being slightly larger than females (sows). Their velvety coat is unique in having no directional fur nap, which makes it easier for themto slip through narrow tunnels forwards or backwards.
The mole's front legs are greatly enlarged and point at right angles to the body. While digging, the legs are swept from front to back in a horizontal plane. This power stroke moves the body forward and either dislodges the soil or pushes it outward forming the tunnels. Moles can dig at approximately 18 ft. per hour, and can turn completely around in their burrows by performing a somersault! They use their tails as a guide, raising it as they travel through the tunnel and whiskers to detect the walls of the tunnel.
A mole's eyesight is very poor, but their sense of smell is incredible, their nose packed full of sensitive nerve endings, which can also detect changes in air pressure and vibrations. Moles use their finely developed sense of smell to communicate. Both males and females produce glandular secretions that empty into the urinary tract. The amount and composition of these secretions changes during breeding season.
Litter sizes range from 2 to 8 with an average of 4. Gestation period is around 28 days. If conditions are not favorable, the female may reabsorb the embryos she is carrying. Most experts believe that a female may have up to three litters per year. Moles may live for up to 7 years, however, more than 85% will die in the first 3 years.
Moles are opportunistic feeders and consume almost anything they can catch. Earthworms are the main component of their diet, with insects and mollusks making up the majority of the other prey with a total consumption of up to 2 ounces per day.
Moles work on a regular four hour cycle; working (digging, hunting and eating) for four hours and then sleeping in a nest area for four hours. Males are more active in February and March when searching for receptive females. Females are more active in May and June when they need more food for nursing their young.
Moles can swim if the need arises. They have been observed to swim up to an hour and to cover a distance of over a half mile. The star-nosed mole is semi-aquatics and sometimes obtains its food underwater. Members of this species are usually found in low-lying areas near water. In fact, their tunnels may exit into ponds or streams.
Moles have two types of tunnels: surface and deep. Surface tunnels have visible, raised portions above the ground. These are particularly common in recently disturbed soils, sandy soils, and in terrains where food is found just below the surface. Surface tunnels are more easily dug but appear to be more temporary, especially when their prey goes deeper in the soil due to drought or cold temperature. Deep tunnels ranging from two inches to five feet are more commonly used. This requires the mole to place mounds of dirt above the surface of the lawn.