17 Interesting Facts About Moles

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Moles are small mammals that spend most of their lives underground, digging tunnels and burrows. While they have a reputation as pesky garden pests, moles are quite fascinating creatures.

In this article, we’ll share 17 interesting facts about these subterranean animals, from their impressive digging abilities to their unique adaptations for life underground. Read on to learn more about the curious lives of moles!

1. There Are Over 40 Species of Moles Worldwide

While the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) is the most common species in North America, there are over 40 mole species found worldwide. Moles live on every continent except Antarctica and South America.

Some other common mole species include:

  • European mole (Talpa europaea)
  • Broad-footed mole (Scapanus latimanus)
  • Japanese shrew mole (Urotrichus talpoides)
  • Russian desman (Desmana moschata)

Moles belong to the mammal family Talpidae. They can be found in a diverse range of habitats from forests to grasslands to sandy dunes.

2. Moles Are Not Rodents

Many people mistakenly believe moles are a type of rodent. However, moles are more closely related to shrews.

While rodents have prominent front teeth for gnawing, moles have smaller teeth as they primarily eat insects, worms, and larvae. Their diet is mostly meat-based, not plant-based like rodents.

3. Moles Have a Highly Developed Sense of Smell

Moles might have poor eyesight, but they make up for it with an excellent sense of smell. They use their long snout and sensitive nose to locate prey as they tunnel.

Moles have a special organ called the Eimer’s organ near the tip of their nose. This gives them a heightened ability to perceive odors and locate food sources underground.

4. Moles Can Smell in Stereo

Here’s a neat fact about moles – they have the rare ability to smell in stereo. This means each nostril smells independently, allowing moles to detect odors with more detail.

Smelling in stereo helps moles locate food and navigate their underground burrows more efficiently. Many species also use scent signals to communicate with other moles.

5. Moles Have Backwards-Facing Fur

A mole’s soft, dense fur serves an important purpose – it can lie smoothly in any direction. This helps moles easily move both forward and backward through their winding tunnels.

Their fur grows backwards, opposite the direction of most mammals. By petting a mole, you’d be stroking its fur against the grain!

6. Moles Can Dig Up to 12 Feet Per Hour

With their large shovel-like front paws, moles are master diggers. Using strong muscles and tough claws, they can burrow through the earth at astonishing speeds.

Some sources estimate moles can dig a tunnel at 12 feet (3.7 meters) or more horizontally per hour. This allows them to effectively search underground for food. Their non-stop digging keeps worms and insects on the move for moles to catch.

7. Moles Create Complex Tunnel Systems

Moles don’t just dig random tunnels, they create entire underground burrow systems. Their tunnel networks provide space to mate, raise young, store food, and sleep safely hidden from predators.

Special chambers in the tunnels serve as nurseries for baby moles. Enlarged areas called “mole vaults” contain collected food stores, with enough insects or worms to feed a mole for weeks.

Tunnels even act like traps – when moles sense vibrations from prey moving overhead, they can charge upwards and catch insects and worms from below ground.

8. Moles Have a High Metabolism

The amount of energy moles expend digging tunnels requires they eat a lot of food. Moles may consume over 70% of their body weight in earthworms and insects per day.

Their metabolisms are sky-high compared to similar sized mammals. Moles need all that food energy to fuel their active underground lifestyle.

This also means moles produce a lot of waste. All those worms and bugs they eat have to go somewhere!

9. Moles Store Food in Underground Larders

Moles have an ingenious food storage system – underground meat lockers!

When moles catch worms and insects, they’ll bite into their prey’s nerve centers. This paralyzes but doesn’t kill them, turning worms and roly-polies into fresh food “to go”.

Moles stash their still-living meals in special chambers called larders dug off their main tunnels. This provides them with easy access to snacks when they need a bite to eat.

Researchers have found larders stockpiled with over 300 earthworms waiting to become a mole’s next meal!

10. Most Moles Live Solitary Lives

Unlike social creatures, most moles lead solitary lives alone underground. They prefer to dig and hunt tunnels in their own separate territories.

Except when mating or raising newborn pups, common moles seldom encounter other moles. Having just 3-5 moles per acre is considered a high population density.

These loner lifestyles likely developed so moles could divide up limited food resources in one area. It takes a lot of worms and insects to keep a single mole fed!

11. Moles Mate in Early Spring

When the ground thaws in early spring, moles start seeking mates. As temperatures warm, insects begin moving through the soil again, providing the food needed to produce offspring.

To find a mate, male moles roam wider tunnels beyond their normal territory. When they locate a female, the moles mate and then separate.

After a 42-44 day gestation period, the female mole gives birth to a litter of 2-5 hairless baby moles. The blind pups grow fur within two weeks but remain in the natal nest to nurse for another month before dispersing to claim their tunnels.

12. Star-Nosed Moles Have a Unique Superpower

The star-nosed mole has a distinctive nose with 22 fleshy appendages that resemble a star. But these nasal rays serve an important purpose.

The star-nosed mole uses its star nose like a superpower, able to gather sensory information faster than any other mammal. Its unique nose structure allows it to identify edible objects in as little as 8 milliseconds!

This gives star-nosed moles an advantage in finding scarce food when tunneling through muddy wetland soils.

13. Moles Can Damage Lawns and Gardens

As moles constantly dig new tunnels searching for insects to eat, they can cause damage above ground. The ridges and dirt mounds moles leave on lawns and gardens are evidence of their non-stop activity below.

While moles typically don’t directly eat plant roots and vegetables, their digging can still be destructive. Moving through the soil, moles dislodge plant root systems, leaving them damaged or exposed.

14. Not All Mole Hills Are Made by Moles

Seeing dirt mounds pushed up on your lawn or garden, your first thought may be “moles!” However, you can’t immediately blame moles for the tunnels and hills appearing on your property.

Other underground creatures like voles, shrews, and earthworms borrow through soils as well. Sometimes they appropriate old mole tunnels, causing similar surface disruption.

Identifying the actual culprit means looking for key signs. Look for raised ridges from deep tunnels to confirm moles, not shallow surface trails made by voles.

15. Moles Help Improve Soil Health

While gardeners see them as pests, moles play an important ecological role through their digging activities. As they excavate deep tunnels, moles help:

  • Aerate soil – their movement loosens and mixes soil, improving structure and oxygen flow.
  • Bury organic matter – tunnels bury vegetation deeper, adding nutrients.
  • Mix layers – digging blends nutrients between topsoil and subsoil.
  • Increase drainage – their deep tunnels channel rainfall into the ground.

So while moles make a mess above ground, underground they actively improve soil quality as they search for food.

16. Ancient Romans Used Moles for Divination

In ancient times, unusual natural events were considered omens from the gods. Some Roman augurs (prophets) interpreted moles popping out of the earth as signs for divination.

The Romans also believed individual marks and growths on human bodies (which we call moles today) revealed a person’s future and fortune.

17. Not All Moles Live Underground

Most moles spend their entire lives out of sight below ground. However, one species in particular is occasionally spotted above the surface – the star-nosed mole.

Star-nosed moles forage along muddy bottoms of wetlands and streams. Their unique nose gives them an advantage in locating food underwater.

On occasion, these moles emerge visibly from the water. So if you see a strange mole paddling along with an array of pink nasal tentacles, you may have encountered the rare star-nosed species!

We hope you enjoyed these interesting facts about the curious lives of moles! While their tunneling causes trouble for gardeners, their unique underground existence makes moles one of nature’s more intriguing mammals.

Next time you see fresh molehills popping up in your yard, take a moment to appreciate these constantly digging furry creatures that call the soil their home.

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