You must have come across moles; they are those furry little mammals that may have been scurrying across your garden or sometimes digging a hole and burrowing themselves there. These creatures are considered to be an agricultural pest in some countries, while in countries like Germany, they are a protected species and cannot be killed without permission. There are known to be 20 to 30 species of moles existing on earth.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Soricomorpha
- Family: Talpidae
These animals are 12 to 16 cm long on an average, from which the tail is about 30 to 35 mm long. They weigh between 70 to 120 gm. Males are bigger and heavier than females. They have a cylindrical-shaped body with a black fur that is soft to touch. The nose is long, pointed, and almost bare except for a few hairs that are very sensitive and help moles find their way through the tunnels. They have very sharp teeth. Their eyes are made up of a fine membrane, and they can only detect daylight and darkness, but nothing else. Their tail is bushy and hard. They do not possess external ears; they are just two small holes covered by fur. However, their sense of hearing is very sharp. They have very strong front legs that look like hands. These legs possess 5 claws each. They help the moles in digging effectively. Moles are known to dig out earth that is much more than their body size in one go (about 30 times). The hind legs are less powerful and are only used to move forward in the tunnel.
Moles prefer well-drained, soft soil that is easy to burrow. Their tunnels are about 5 to 6 cm wide and high, and can go as far as 70 to 80 meters in length. Molehills are formed when the dirt is displaced in the upward direction by the moles while digging close to the earth's surface.
These animals mainly keep to themselves, i.e., they are solitary. Fierce and violent fights leading to death can occur on invasion of territory. Thus, they do not invade another mole's tunnel unless it is the mating season, in which case the male visits the female in her tunnel.
The mating season is from March to May. Mating takes place in the female's tunnel. She makes a small chamber inside for the babies. Gestation period lasts between 30 to 45 days, after which the babies are born. The litter size can vary from 3 to 6 babies. When born, the young ones are blind and do not have any fur for the first two weeks. By the time they are three weeks old, they are able to see and move around. They are nursed by their mother till they are a month old and become independent at two months of age. Male moles do not take any part in raising the young ones. Their average life expectancy is 3 to 5 years.
Moles are considered pests in many countries because they disturb the soil. Many times, they reduce crop yield or make it unsuitable for livestock to graze on. For these reasons, they are killed by laying traps or by poisoning. However, in countries like Germany, they are protected and cannot be killed without a permit.
The next time you see a mole burrowing itself deep into the soil, do not think that it is there to destroy your plants. In fact, it is killing the insects that have harmed your plants (except the earthworms which are considered to be friends of farmers). Also, by digging up the soil, it is only aerating it and making it better for your plants. Do not disturb it unless it becomes a nuisance.