Moles are small, destructive, burrowing mammals that are the bane of garden and lawn enthusiasts almost everywhere they are found. There are some 42 species of this insectivore found living all over North America, Asia, and Europe. Most species range in size from about five to eight inches in length. The closest living relatives of the mole includes hedgehogs and shrews.
Moles are well adapted to a subterranean lifestyle with a wedge-shaped head, narrow pointed nose and cylindrical bodies. Their fur is velvety and can lie forward or backward, facilitating travel in either direction in the burrow they make. This feature avoids rubbing the wrong way as the animal moves through tight underground tunnels. Their spine is very flexible, allowing the mole to turn on itself inside a narrow burrow.
Moles have reduced hind limbs, a short tail, and powerful stubby forelimbs designed for burrowing in the soil. These forelimbs are front paws that turn outward and have long, broad claws that are used to dig its underground burrow where it spends most of its life.
As a mole digs, its forelimbs work like shovels, scooping out the soil. The mole pushes the soil forward out of the tunnel, creating a distinctive cone-shaped mound of soil above the ground. They live in grasslands, urban areas, gardens, sand dunes, mixed woodland or any area that has soil where they can dig tunnels.
For survival in its dark environment, a mole has well-developed senses of touch, smell, and hearing (even though it lacks external ears). The animal's tiny eyes are covered with thin skin and shaded by overhanging fur making it hard for the mole to see clearly.
A mole's diet consists primarily of worms and insect larva that it encounters while burrowing in the soil. It is hard to tell the sex of some species of moles by just looking at their genitalia. The females of several species have genitals that appear similar to those of males. For the males of some species, the penis is an internal organ.
Larrie Stone is a retired Dana College science professor.