Exploring the wonderful world of moles

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 February 2020

Marcin Pawinski/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Marcin Pawinski/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Marcin Pawinski

The founder of Somerset animal charity Secret World talks all things wildlife with us

The European mole, talpa europaea, is an insectivore. Moles are rarely seen and the usual sign of them being around is the mole hill - a heap of soil that has been excavated to tidy existing tunnels or prepare new ones. They live in a network of tunnels but live solitary lives.

Moles share their tunnels but will not use a tunnel if another mole is using it. They work out which tunnels they can use by measuring the vibration created by another mole being present.

They eat the worms and invertebrates that drop in to their tunnels but also have the ability to create a food store by paralysing worms by eating their heads. Their arms are minute so their large spade-like fore-limbs appear to come straight from the shoulder.

The skeleton of the mole is typical of a digging mammal that spends its life underground. There is no external flap to their ears and they are only 2mm in diameter so are hardly visible. Equally their eyes measure only 1mm and it is just the glint that is seen - another sense that they do not need. Their whiskers are very sensitive and the fleshy nose can sense smell, humidity and temperature.

As they dig with each fore-arm in turn, they push against the opposite side of the tunnel with their body, compressing the earth. The loose earth is pushed behind them and when they have acquired an amount to be moved, they somersault and using both front limbs together like a digger, they push the soil to the surface, creating the molehill.

A breeding chamber can sometimes be made underground but moles will sometimes create a 'fortress', which is a much larger mole hill, some times as much as one metre high. This is particularly where the water table is high or the land is prone to flooding. Here the babies are reared in a spherical nest made up of dry leaves and grasses.

The young will be born in April or May and will be fed entirely on milk for the first month. They stay in the nest until they are about five weeks old when they will start to move around searching for food. By nine weeks they are independent.

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