Mole (animal)

Mole (animal)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Infraclass: Eutheria
Order: Soricomorpha
Family: Talpidae
in part

12 genera, see text

Moles are small cylindrical mammals adapted to a subterranean lifestyle. They have velvety fur; tiny or invisible ears and eyes; and short, powerful limbs with large paws oriented for digging. The term is especially and most properly used for the true moles, those of the Talpidae family in the order Soricomorpha found in most parts of North America,[1] Asia, and Europe. It also refers to other completely unrelated mammals of Australia and southern Africa which have also evolved the mole body plan; while it is not commonly used for some talpids, such as desmans and shrew-moles, which do not fit the common definition of “mole” as well.



By the era of Early Modern English, the mole was also known in English as mouldywarp, a name echoed in other Germanic languages such as German (Maulwürfe),[2] and Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic (muldvarp, mullvad, moldvarpa), where the muld/mull/mold part of the word means soil and the varp/vad/varpa part means throw), hence "one who throws soil" or "dirt tosser".

Male moles are called "boars", females are called "sows". A group of moles is called a labour.[3]


Breathing underground

Moles have been found to tolerate higher levels of carbon dioxide than other mammals. This is because their blood has a special and unique sort of hemoglobin protein found in their blood cells. Moles are able to re-use the oxygen inhaled when above ground and as a result are able to survive in low-oxygen environments such as underground burrows.[4]

Extra thumb

Mole hand

Moles have polydactyl hands; each hand has an extra thumb (also known as a prepollex) next to the regular thumb. While the mole's other digits have multiple joints, the prepollex has a single, sickle-shaped bone which develops later and differently than the other fingers during embryogenesis from a transformed sesamoid bone in the wrist. This supernumerary digit is species-specific as it is not present in shrews, the mole's closest relative. Androgenic steroids are known to affect the growth and formation of bones and there is a possible connection between this species-specific trait and the "male" genital apparatus in female moles in many mole species (gonads with testicular and ovary tissues). [5]


A mole's diet primarily consists of earthworms and other small invertebrates found in the soil and also a variety of nuts. Because their saliva contains a toxin that can paralyze earthworms, moles are able to store their still living prey for later consumption. They construct special underground "larders" for just this purpose—researchers have discovered such larders with over a thousand earthworms in them. Before eating earthworms, moles pull them between their squeezed paws to force the collected earth and dirt out of the worm's gut.[6]

The Star-nosed Mole can detect, catch and eat food faster than the human eye can follow (under .3 seconds).[7]


The family Talpidae contains all the true moles and some of their close relatives. Desmans, which are Talpidae but are not normally called "moles", are not shown below but belong to the subfamily Talpinae, (note the slightly different name). Those species called "shrew-moles" represent an intermediate form between the moles and their shrew ancestors, and as such may not be fully described by the article.

On the other hand, there is no monophyletic relation between the mole and the hedgehog, both of whom were previously placed in the now abandoned order Insectivora. As a result, Soricomorpha ("shrew-like animals" including moles), previously within Insectivora, has been elevated to the level of an order. [8]

  • Subfamily Scalopinae: "New World moles"
    • Tribe Condylurini Star-Nosed Mole (North America)
      • Genus Condylura: Star-nosed Mole (Sole species)
    • Tribe Scalopini New World moles
      • Genus Parascalops: Hairy-tailed Mole (Northeastern North America)
      • Genus Scalopus: Eastern Mole (North America)
      • Genus Scapanulus: Gansu Mole (China)
      • Genus Scapanus: Western North American moles (Four species)
  • Subfamily Talpinae Old World moles, desmans (not shown), and shrew-moles.
    • Tribe Talpini: Old World Moles
    • Tribe Scaptonychini Long-tailed Mole
      • Genus Scaptonyx: Long-tailed Mole (China and Myanmar)
    • Tribe Urotrichini: Japanese shrew-moles
      • Genus Dymecodon: True’s Shrew Mole
      • Genus Urotrichus: Japanese Shrew Mole
    • Tribe Neurotrichini New World shrew-moles
      • Genus Neurotrichus: Shrew-mole (aka. "American Shrew Mole" Pacific northwest USA, southwest British Columbia.)
  • Subfamily Uropsilinae: Asian shrew-like moles, ("Chinese Shrew-moles")
    • Genus Uropsilus Four Species in China, Bhutan, and Myanmar

Other "Moles"

While many groups of burrowing animals (pink fairy armadillos, tuco-tucos, mole-rats; even mole crickets and mole crabs) have developed close physical similarities with moles due to convergent evolution, two of these are so similar to true moles that they are commonly called and thought of as "moles" in common English, although they are completely unrelated to true moles or to each other. These are the golden moles of southern Africa and the marsupial moles of Australia. While difficult to distinguish from each other, they are most easily distinguished from true moles by shovel-like patches on their noses which they use in tandem with their abbreviated forepaws to swim through sandy soils.

The Golden Moles

A Golden Mole

The golden moles belong to the same branch on the tree of life as the tenrecs, called Tenrecomorpha or Afrosoricida, which in turn stems from a main branch of placental mammals called the Afrosoricida. This means that they share a closer common ancestor with such existing Afrosoricids as Elephants, Manatees, and Aardvarks than they do with other placental mammals such as true Talpidae moles.

Marsupial Moles

A Marsupial Mole

As marsupials, these moles are even more distantly related to true talpidae moles than golden moles, both of which belong to the eutheria, or placental mammals. This means that they are more closely related to such existing Australian marsupials Kangaroos or Koalas, and even to a lesser extent to American marsupials such as opossums than they are to placental mammals such as Golden Moles or Talpidae moles.

Class Mammalia

  • Subclass Prototheria: monotremes: echidnas and the Platypus
  • Subclass Theriiformes: live-bearing mammals and their prehistoric relatives
    • Infraclass Holotheria: modern live-bearing mammals and their prehistoric relatives
      • Supercohort Theria: live-bearing mammals
        • Cohort Marsupialia: marsupials
          • Magnorder Ameridelphia: New World marsupials
            • Order Didelphimorphia (opossums)
            • Order Paucituberculata (shrew opossums)
          • Superorder Australidelphia Australian Marsupials
            • Order Dasyuromorphia Tasmanian Devils, numbats,
            • Order Peramelemorphia Bilbies and bandicoots
            • Order Diprotodontia Koalas, Wombats, Diprotodons, possums, cuscuses, sugar gliders, kangaroos, and many more
            • Order Notoryctemorphia Marsupial moles and closely related extinct families of marsupials
              • Family Notoryctidae Living marsupial genera and extinct marsupial mole genera
                • Genus Notoryctes Only genus of marsupial moles with existant species
                  • Species Notoryctes typhlops, the Southern Marsupial Mole
                  • Species Notoryctes caurinus, the Northern Marsupial Mole

Interaction with humans


Advertisementin Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 1921

Moles' pelts have a velvety texture not found in surface animals, whose pelts tend to be longer and react differently to being rubbed in different directions. To facilitate their burrowing lifestyle, mole pelts are short and very dense and have no particular direction in which friction moves more or less smoothly. The leather is extremely soft and supple. Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII of the United Kingdom, ordered a mole-fur garment in order to start a fashion that would create a demand for mole fur, thereby turning what had been a serious pest problem in Scotland into a lucrative industry for the country. Hundreds of pelts are cut into rectangles and sewn together to make a coat. The natural color is taupe, but it is readily dyed any color.[9]

Pest status

Molehills in Eastern Bohemia

Moles are considered to be agricultural pests in some countries, while in others, such as Germany, they are a protected species but may be killed if a permit is received. Problems cited as caused by moles include contamination of silage with soil particles making it unpalatable to livestock, the covering of pasture with fresh soil reducing its size and yield, damage to agricultural machinery by the exposure of stones, damage to young plants through disturbance of the soil, weed invasion of pasture through exposure of fresh tilled soil, and damage to drainage systems and watercourses. Other species such as weasels and voles may use mole tunnels to gain access to enclosed areas or plant roots.

Moles burrow lawns, raising molehills, and killing the lawn, for which they are sometimes considered pests. They can undermine plant roots, indirectly causing damage or death. However, contrary to popular belief, moles do not eat plant roots.[10]

A mole trap

They are controlled with traps such as mole-catchers, smoke bombs, and poisons such as calcium carbide and strychnine, which is no longer available in Britain. The most common method now is Phostoxin or Talunex tablets. They contain aluminium phosphide and are inserted in the mole tunnels, where they turn into phosphine gas (not be confused with phosgene gas). More recently high grade nitrogen gas has proven an effective remedy, with the added advantage of having no polluting effect to the environment. [10]

Other common defensive measures include cat litter and blood meal, to repel the mole, or flooding or smoking its burrow. There are also devices sold to trap the mole in its burrow, when one sees the "mole hill" moving and therefore knows where the animal is, and then stabbing it. Humane traps which capture the mole alive so that it may be transported elsewhere are also options. [10]

However, in many gardens, the damage caused by moles to lawns is mostly visual, and it is also possible to simply remove the earth of the molehills as they appear, leaving their permanent galleries for the moles to continue their existence underground. [10]


Although the mole can be eaten, the taste is said to be deeply unpleasant.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Kevin Campbell. "Mole Distribution Maps". University of Manitoba. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  2. ^ Rackham, Oliver, The Illustrated History Of The Countryside page 130 (quoting J. Seddon, The boke of surveying and improvments - sic) ISBN 0-297-84335-4
  3. ^ "Moles". [dead link]
  4. ^ "Secret of how moles breathe underground revealed". The Telegraph. July 20, 2010. 
  5. ^ "How the mole got its twelve fingers". University of Zurich. July 12, 2011. Retrieved July 2011. 
  6. ^ The Life of Mammals, David Attenborough, 2002
  7. ^ Salisbury, David F. (February 2005). "Marsh-dwelling mole gives new meaning to the term 'fast food'". EurekAlert. Retrieved July 2011. 
  8. ^ Mouchaty, Suzette K.; Gullberg, Anette; Janke, Axel; Arnason, Ulfur (2000). "The Phylogenetic Position of the Talpidae Within Eutheria Based on Analysis of Complete Mitochondrial Sequences". Mol Biol Evol 17 (1): 60–67. PMID 10666706. 
  9. ^ "Furs types in brief". Retrieved 6 october 2010. 
  10. ^ a b c d "How to get rid of moles". 2004. Retrieved July 2011. 
  11. ^ Howard, Martin (2010-04-01). "Why we need eccentricity". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-13. 

External links

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