March 10, 2003

Earth Mover

Although I have often cursed them on my knees in the garden while inspecting the wilted remains of future vegetables; I've nearly fallen when stepping into 'empty soil' over one of their tunnels; and we've found their green gall bladders on our back porch (thanks to the cat)... never, before yesterday, had I held in my hands a living Eastern Mole. It was a first encounter with the grotesque but somehow charming creature that could have been featured in a B-grade sci-fi movie. What a weird little dude! Buster had found it, and was carrying it around gently in his mouth when I stepped out the back door yesterday. He gave it to me readily.

Eastern Mole from The velvet-black round-bodied squirming, squeaking insectivore in my (gloved) hands has no eyes (as they live in the dark underground) and no visible external ears (which would only get in the way and fill with dirt as they 'swim' through the soil). The fur is 'hinged' and moves like suede in all directions equally without resistance. The nose (you should see the bizarre snout of the Star-nosed mole!) is short, hairless and blood-red and incredibly sensitive (to vibration? heat? worm chemistry? all of these?) and aids him (in the relative absence of vision or hearing) in finding his favorite foods... earthworms and grubs. But perhaps the most amazing thing about this little chipmunk-sized creature that wiggles in my hands is his front paws!

They are massive in comparison to the size of the body. My hands would be the size of garbage can lids if proportionately sized! The five claws on each 'hand' are likewise grotesquely large and powerful and the limbs are so shortened that the front feet appear to be attached directly to the shoulder. Not only that, but the forelimbs are rotated (compared to most mammals) to enhance their remarkable earth moving abilities. How perfectly adapted this uncommonly seen creature is to his subterranean life that goes on under my very feet!

Having known this little mammal up close and personal now, I'll never demonize moles any more. Except when they tunnel under my tomato plants and ruin the carrots. That's a different matter altogether and it's him or me. I'll trap and bait and I'll stomp the soft earth with my size 12's and I'll even pen the mole-hungry cat in the garden overnight! But maybe I'm just making a mountain out of a... well, you know.

Some amazing mole facts:

  • Because of specialized bone and muscle construction, moles can exert a lateral digging force equivalent to 32 times its body weight. (Arlton 1936) As a comparison, a 150 lb. man would be able to exert a 4800 lb. lateral force.
  • "For moles to dig one metre of tunnel requires between 400 and 4,000 times as much energy as does walking for the same distance on the surface." (Vleck 1979 University of Arizona.)
  • A 5 ounce mole will consume 45 to 50 lbs. of worms and insects per year. Godfrey and Crowcroft (1960) Mellanby (1967)
  • A moles surface tunneling or probes can be dug at about 18 feet per hour. A moles speed through existing tunnels is about 80 ft. per minute. Godfrey (1955)
  • Moles contain twice as much blood and twice as much red hemoglobin as other mammals of similar size, allowing the mole to breath easily in its underground environment of low oxygen and high carbon dioxide. (Arlton 1936)

Posted by fred1st at March 10, 2003 05:19 AM | TrackBack

I wish I could claim a friendly attitude toward moles...but I can't. We have a very large, rolling front lawn which, beginning last year, has come to feel more & more like walking on a sandy beach, thanks to those critters. You can trap them? How? Not sure what I'd do with them if I caught some... So far I'm looking at putting down stuff that kills the grubworms. Other ideas most welcome!

Posted by: peggy at March 10, 2003 06:19 AM

Ooh! Ooh! A mole blog . . . how exciting! I'm totally envious that you were able to scrutinize one up close and personal. Fascinating! And thanks for the complementary mole facts to enhance the mole narrative! (Sorry about the hyperbolic superlatives and exclamation marks, but . . . not to put too fine a point on it . . . I'm just *awfully* excited by the mole blog!!!)

Posted by: Artichoke Heart at March 10, 2003 12:30 PM

We used to have acreage in the country and I would gladly send you a wombat, one of our famed marsupials. Their tunnels collapse bush roaads and if one is hit by a car, serious damage can result to both wombat and car. They are protected animals here. Built like a barrel and very heavy with extremely strong claws, they go through, not around. Not only do their burrows collaps under roads, but they go through fences, much to farmers' disgust. Herbivores, and they used to eat my veges too.
Shalom, Jan

Posted by: Jan at March 10, 2003 01:46 PM

We've got gophers out here...a local nursery has a nice side business selling galvanized chicken wire root cages. I built raised beds with gopher wire in the bottom...the raised beds work better for my middle aged back & knees too.

You'd think the clay hardpan that passes for native soil here abouts would be impossible to tunnel...not so. I had to use a pickax to work soil conditioner and compost into it but the gophers cut through it like cheese.

Posted by: feste at March 10, 2003 06:30 PM

You never did say what the final disposition of the little beast was...

Posted by: Dave Worley at March 11, 2003 11:55 PM

Post a comment

Remember Me?