February 2015 - Moles
Bawburgh Mole, photo taken by Lin Gibson 5th January 2015
Everyone has seen the results of a mole going about its everyday business, and many people, understandably, are not happy with the inevitable mole tunnels and hills. Although one of the most common of British mammals, little is appreciated about their lives underground, and few people have ever seen a mole.
As they spend most of their time underground and are nocturnal, they are practically blind, see only in black and white, and only detect movement. To compensate for their poor sight, there is an area of bare pink skin on their snouts, covered in tiny pimples that detect movement and the scents of prey and other moles. Their hearing is excellent. Their bodies are covered with dense velvety black fur which extends to cover their small eyes and ears protecting them from loose soil during excavations, which they carry out using spade like front paws which have very sharp claws. Excess soil is pushed out of the ground to form the well-known molehills. As their tunnels are narrow they are unable to turn round easily, so they use their short tails to feel their way backwards. Extra-large molehills mark the position of the nest.
Moles breed between March and May, and have 1 or 2 litters a year. Each litter has 3 to 6 young which are suckled for 4 to 5 weeks. When they are about 2 months old the young become independent. Moles are primarily solitary animals living in their own set of tunnels. Males may fight in the event that they come across each other.
Moles are active all year round, only seen above ground when there is a shortage of food, for example in a drought, or when they are trying to find a mate. They have an average lifespan of 3 to 4 years.
The moles' main food is earth worms, but they will also eat beetles and other insects. They may even eat baby shrews or mice if the opportunity arises. In the autumn moles will create a larder of earthworms, which they will feed upon during the winter. Mole saliva contains a toxin which immobilizes the earth worms, so once bitten the worms cannot crawl away, and remain alive.
Interesting Mole Facts:
Moles are not found in Ireland.
An 80g mole consumes up to 50g of earth worms a day.
A male mole is called a boar, the female a sow, young are pups, and a group of moles a labour.
Moles have a specialised blood supply enabling them to live in burrows where oxygen levels are restricted.
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