Mole (animal)

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Kret mole.jpg
European mole (Talpa europaea), an Old world mole
Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus), a New world mole
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Eulipotyphla
Family: Talpidae
Subfamilles, Tribes, and Genera
A European mole Kret mole.jpg
A European mole

Moles are small mammals adapted to a subterranean lifestyle (i.e., fossorial). They have cylindrical bodies, velvety fur, very small, inconspicuous ears and eyes, [1] reduced hindlimbs, and short, powerful forelimbs with large paws adapted for digging.


The term mole is especially and most properly used for "true moles" of the family Talpidae in the order Eulipotyphla, which are found in most parts of North America, [2] Europe and Asia, although it may also refer to unrelated mammals of Australia and southern Africa that have convergently evolved the "mole" body plan. The term is not applied to all talpids; e.g., desmans and shrew moles differ from the common definition of "mole".

Moles are known pests to human activities such as agriculture, lawncare, and gardening. However, they do not eat plant roots; they only cause damage indirectly, as they eat earthworms and other small invertebrates in the soil. However, while moles may be viewed as pests, they do provide many positive contributions to the soil, gardens, and the ecosystem, including soil aeration, feeding on slugs and other small creatures that do eat plant roots, and providing prey for other wildlife. [3] [4]


In Middle English, moles were known as moldwarp. The expression "don't make a mountain out of a molehill" (which means "exaggerating problems") was first recorded in Tudor times. [5] By the era of Early Modern English, the mole was also known in English as mouldywarp, a word having cognates in other Germanic languages such as German (Maulwurf), [6] 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". [7]


Underground breathing

Moles have been found to tolerate higher levels of carbon dioxide than other mammals, because their blood cells have a special form of hemoglobin that has a higher affinity to oxygen than other forms. In addition to this, moles utilize oxygen more effectively by reusing the exhaled air, and as a result, are able to survive in low-oxygen environments such as burrows. [8]

Extra thumbs

Mole paw Talpa europaea MHNT pate.jpg
Mole paw

Moles have polydactyl forepaws; each 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 that develops later and differently from the other fingers during embryogenesis from a transformed sesamoid bone in the wrist, independently evolved but similar to the giant panda thumb. This supernumerary digit is species-specific, as it is not present in shrews, the mole's closest relatives. Androgenic steroids are known to affect the growth and formation of bones, and a connection is possible between this species-specific trait and the "male" genital apparatus in female moles of many mole species (gonads with testicular and ovary tissues). [9]


A mole's diet primarily consists of earthworms and other small invertebrates found in the soil. The mole runs are in reality "worm traps", the mole sensing when a worm falls into the tunnel and quickly running along to kill and eat it. [10] 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. [11]

The star-nosed mole can detect, catch and eat food faster than the human eye can follow. [12]


Breeding season for a mole depends on species, but is generally February through May. Males search for females by letting out high-pitched squeals and tunneling through foreign areas.

The gestation period of the Eastern (North America) mole (Scalopus aquaticus) is approximately 42 days. Three to five young are born, mainly in March and early April. [13]

Townsend moles mate in February and March, and the 2–4 young are born in March and April after a gestation period of about 1 month. [14] The Townsend mole is endangered in the United States and Canada. [15]

Coast moles produce a litter of 2–5 pups between March and April. [15]

Pups leave the nest 30–45 days after birth to find territories of their own.

Social structure

Allegedly moles are solitary creatures, coming together only to mate. Territories may overlap, but moles avoid each other and males may fight fiercely if they meet.


Uropsilus Uropsilus1sm.jpg
Broad-footed mole Scapanus latimanus2.jpg
Broad-footed mole
Eastern mole ScalopusAquaticus.jpg
Eastern mole

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 which were previously placed in the now-abandoned order Insectivora. As a result, Eulipotyphla (shrew-like animals, including moles), previously within Insectivora, has been elevated to the level of an order. [16]

Other "moles"

While many groups of burrowing animals (pink fairy armadillos, tuco-tucos, mole rats, 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, 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.

Golden moles

The golden moles belong to the same branch on the phylogenetic tree as the tenrecs, called Tenrecomorpha, which, in turn, stem 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 Kret workowaty.jpg
A marsupial mole

As marsupials, these moles are even more distantly related to true talpid moles than golden moles are, both of which belong to the Eutheria, or placental mammals. This means that they are more closely related to such existing Australian marsupials as kangaroos or koalas, and even to a lesser extent to American marsupials, such as opossums, than they are to placental mammals, such as golden or Talpidae moles.

Class Mammalia

Interaction with humans


Advertisement in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 1921 Debenham and Freebody ad 1921 1 ISaDN.jpg
Advertisement in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News , 1921

Moles' pelts have a velvety texture not found in surface animals. Surface-dwelling animals tend to have longer fur with a natural tendency for the nap to lie in a particular direction, but to facilitate their burrowing lifestyle, mole pelts are short and very dense and have no particular direction to the nap. This makes it easy for moles to move backwards underground, as their fur is not "brushed the wrong way". The leather is extremely soft and supple. Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII of the United Kingdom, ordered a mole-fur garment 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, (derived from the French noun taupe meaning mole) but it is readily dyed any color. [17]

Pest status - extermination and humane options

Molehills in eastern Bohemia Krtek1.jpg
Molehills in eastern Bohemia

Moles are considered agricultural pests in some countries, while in others, such as Germany, they are a protected species, but may be killed with a permit. 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 freshly 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 and raise molehills, killing parts of lawns. They can undermine plant roots, indirectly causing damage or death. Moles do not eat plant roots. [18]

A mole trap Op scherp staande mollenklem.jpg
A mole trap

Moles are controlled with traps such as mole-catchers, smoke bombs, and poisons such as calcium carbide, which produces acetylene gas to drive moles away. Strychnine was also used for this purpose in the past. 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 effective at killing moles, with the added advantage of having no polluting effect to the environment. [18]

Other common defensive measures include cat litter and blood meal, to repel the mole, or smoking its burrow. Devices are also 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.

Other humane options are also possible including humane traps that capture the mole alive so it may be transported elsewhere. [18] In many contexts including ordinary gardens, the damage caused by moles to lawns is mostly visual, and it is possible instead of extermination to simply remove the earth of the molehills as they appear, leaving their permanent galleries for the moles to continue their existence underground. [18] However, when the tunnels are near the surface in soft ground or after heavy rain, they may collapse, leaving (small) unsightly furrows in the lawn.


William Buckland, known for eating every animal he could, opined that mole meat tasted vile. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles


The order Insectivora is a now-abandoned biological grouping within the class of mammals. Some species have now been moved out, leaving the remaining ones in the order Eulipotyphla, within the larger clade Laurasiatheria, which makes up one of the most basic clades of placental mammals.


Eulipotyphla is an order of mammals suggested by molecular methods of phylogenetic reconstruction, and includes the laurasiatherian members of the now-invalid polyphyletic order Lipotyphla, but not the afrotherian members. Lipotyphla in turn had been derived by removing a number of groups from Insectivora, the previously used wastebasket taxon.

Golden mole

Golden moles are small insectivorous burrowing mammals endemic to Southern Africa. They comprise the family Chrysochloridae and as such they are taxonomically distinct from the true moles, family Talpidae, and other mole-like families, all of which, to various degrees, they resemble as a result of evolutionary convergence.


The order Afrosoricida contains the golden moles of southern Africa, the otter shrews of equatorial Africa and the tenrecs of Madagascar. These three families of small mammals have traditionally been considered to be a part of the order Insectivora, and were later included in Lipotyphla after Insectivora was abandoned as a wastebasket taxon, before Lipotyphla was also found to be polyphyletic.


The family Talpidae includes the moles, shrew moles, desmans, and other intermediate forms of small insectivorous mammals of the order Eulipotyphla. Talpids are all digging animals to various degrees: moles are completely subterranean animals; shrew moles and shrew-like moles somewhat less so; and desmans, while basically aquatic, excavate dry sleeping chambers; whilst the quite unique star-nosed mole is equally adept in the water and underground. Talpids are found across the Northern Hemisphere and southern Asia, Europe, and North America, although none are found in Ireland nor in the Americas south of northern Mexico.

European mole

The European mole is a mammal of the order Eulipotyphla. It is also known as the common mole and the northern mole.

North American least shrew

The North American least shrew is one of the smallest mammals, growing to be only up to 3 inches long. It has a long pointed snout and a tail never more than twice the length of its hind foot. The dense fur coat is either grayish-brown or reddish-brown with a white belly. Its fur becomes lighter in the summer and darker in the winter. Although similar in appearance to several species of rodents, all shrews are members of the order Eulipotyphla and should not be mistaken for a member of the order Rodentia. The North American least shrew's eyes are small and its ears are completely concealed within its short fur, giving it very poor eyesight and hearing.


The subfamily Talpinae, sometimes called "Old World moles" or "Old World moles and relatives", is one of three subfamilies of the mole family Talpidae, the others being the Scalopinae, or New World moles, and the Uropsilinae, or shrew-like moles.


The desman, a snouted and naked-tailed diving insectivore of the tribe Desmanini, belongs to one of two Eurasian species of the mole family, Talpidae.


The shrew moles (Uropsilus) are shrew-like members of the mole family of mammals endemic to the forested, high-alpine region bordering China, Myanmar, and Vietnam. They possess a long snout, a long slender tail, external ears, and small forefeet unspecialized for burrowing. Although they are similar to shrews in size, external appearance, and, presumably, ecological habits, they are nevertheless talpids and considered true moles, as they share a full zygomatic arch with all other moles, while this arch is completely absent in shrews.

Soricomorpha Formerly used suborder of mammals

Soricomorpha is a formerly used taxon within the class of mammals. In the past it formed a significant group within the former order Insectivora. However, Insectivora was shown to be polyphyletic and various new orders were split off from it, including Afrosoricida, Macroscelidea, and Erinaceomorpha, with the four remaining extant and recent families of Soricomorpha shown here then being treated as a separate order. Insectivora was left empty and disbanded.

Southern marsupial mole

The southern marsupial mole, also known as the itjaritjari or itjari-itjari, is a mole-like marsupial found in the western central deserts of Australia. It is extremely adapted to a burrowing way of life. It has large, shovel-like forepaws and silky fur, which helps it move easily. It also lacks complete eyes as it has little need for them. It feeds on earthworms and larvae.

Northern marsupial mole

The northern marsupial mole or kakarratul, species Notoryctes caurinus, is a marsupial in the family Notoryctidae, an endemic animal of arid regions of Central Australia. It lives in the loose sand of dunes and river plains in the desert, spending nearly its entire life beneath ground. The facial features are reduced or absent, their small and strong body, weighing little more the 30 grams, is extremely specialised to moving through sand in search of prey. The species is elusive and it is one of the most poorly understood mammals of Australia.

Amblysomus is a genus of the golden mole family, Chrysochloridae, comprising five species of the small, insect-eating, burrowing mammals endemic to Southern Africa. All five species can be found in South Africa and some are also found in Swaziland and Lesotho.

Urotrichini tribe of small insectivorous mammals

Urotrichini is a tribe of the mole family, and consists of Japanese and American shrew-moles. They belong to the Old World moles and relatives branch of the mole family (Talpidae). There are only two species, each of which represents its own genus. The name "shrew-moles" refers to their morphological resemblance to shrews, while generally being thought of as "true moles". The species are the Japanese shrew mole, True's shrew mole and American shrew mole.

Scalopinae subfamily of small insectivorous mammals

The Scalopinae, or New World moles, are one of three subfamilies of the family Talpidae, which consists of moles and mole-like animals; the other two subfamilies being the Old World talpids and the Chinese shrew-like moles (Uropsilinae). The Scalopinae are the only Talpidae subfamily to consist entirely of undisputed moles and no mole-like close relatives such as shrew-moles or desmans. They are found virtually everywhere soil conditions permit in North America, except northern Canada and those areas of northeastern Mexico where the soil is too sandy. There is also one species in China.


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