Quite simply, moles are extraordinary creatures which are remarkably well adapted to their environment. The more we study and battle these little guys, the more we admire them. Here are our favorite mole bytes gleaned from many wonderful resources.
Defiant to the Last
The following incredible tale entitled "Mole Kills Herring Gull" was submitted to the journal Scottish Birds. (Lyster, 1972)
On July 12th 1972 R. Mack found a freshly dead Herring Gull lying in a field ... Protruding from the angle between the neck and left wing was the head of a dead mole. The bodies were sent to the royal Scottish Museum for a more detailed study.
The conclusions were as follows: the mole had been swallowed alive and probably undamaged. As it was swallowed it had made a 2 cm tear in the top of the gull's oesophagus; from the oesophagus it had passed into the thoracic cavity and into the highly distensible crop-like stomach. The mole then tore through the stomach wall, forced its way through the arch of the furculum (wish-bone) until it came to rest, as discovered, with its head and forelimbs outside the body of the gull. Smears of blood on the gull's neck-feathers suggest that the gull was still alive at this point, though it must have soon succumbed because of the severe damage to the lungs and blood vessels around the heart.
...It would appear that the mole died of suffocation, coupled with exhaustion and shock.
The Fashionable Mole
In the past, the luxurious fur of moles was in great demand. Fashionable men of the early 20th century paid hefty sums for waistcoats made of moleskin while women donned long coats, muffs, and hats of the fur. In the 1920's, 12 million European Mole skins were imported annually from England. Sincere attempts by the US Department of Agriculture to create a worldwide market for North American moles never succeeded. Interestingly, the invention of the automobile has been linked to the decline of moleskin's popularity -- apparently the imprint of a person's posterior is retained in the fur after a period of sitting on it! (Gorman and Stone, 1990)
Pound for Pound, One Strong Little Guy
The Eastern Mole can exert a lateral digging force equivalent to 32 times its own body weight! (Arlton, 1936)
Great Thinkers Chase Moles
After his mentor Plato's death in 347 BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle left Athens to tutor the adolescent son of Philip of Macedonia. During his five year tenure with Alexander (who would later conquer the known world), Aristotle was purportedly rewarded not only with funds, but also with thousands of slaves to collect specimens for his studies in natural science. Rumor has it that he was fascinated by the European Mole ( Talpa europa ), and tried his own hand at molecatching! (Smith, 1980)
The Fashionable Mole, Part II: The Price of Fashion
With the booming popularity of moleskin at the beginning of the 20th century, vast numbers of professional mole trappers swept across Europe and Asia in search of their quarry. Unfortunately, this was not without consequence. The Russian Desman (a close mole relative) was hunted to the brink of extinction and in Germany, the protection of the State was extended to preserve the dwindling numbers of European Moles there. (Gorman and Stone, 1990)
European History Changed by a Mole
On fine day in 1702, King William III went out for a ride on his horse, Sorrel, near Hampton Court. Moles were common in the area, and one had constructed a mound in such a location that the king's horse tripped and fell over it. Already weak and ill, King William suffered a broken collar bone and died from pneumonia just a few days later. Jacobites were elated on hearing the news and reportedly drank a toast to "the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat." (Gorman and Stone, 1990)
Inventive Mole Trap Designs: Think Cheap!
If you are unwilling to shell out for effective mole traps, perhaps you can design your own ineffective one. Hailing from the great state of Michigan (home to not one, but three species of moles), this was the road taken by one Herbert C. This mole chasin' visionary was granted US patent number 4,179,836 in 1979 for a design which sounds exactly useless:
An efficient mole catcher is comprised of a pair of hooks with sharp ends that are advantageously barbed and which are placed upright in or on both ends of a board or like base so as to be adapted to catch a mole or the like varmint due to the moving along of the mole its runway so as to go over the first hook without notice; then bump into and get jabbed by the point of the second hook which it runs into causing it to sharply back up and get firmly stuck on the other lead hook then behind him which thus leaves the varmint fixed and snagged to be trapped there to sooner or later die and/or rot in its hole.
I Think I'll Walk
Depending on soil type, a gopher expends between 400 to 4,000 more energy in the construction of a burrow than in walking an equivalent distance on the surface. A mole's burrowing style is even less efficient and the ratio can be approximated at between 600 and 6,000. (Vleck, 1979)
The Great Escape
In 1959, a golden mole tipping the scales at only 2 ounces escaped from its research-driven captors by displacing an iron cover weighing 20 pounds! (Bateman, 1959)
A Mole in Time
Moles are members of the oldest mammalian order (Insectivora) from which all furry creatures descended. Ancestors of modern moles appear in the fossil record of the Eocene period 130 million years ago. The "true moles" first emerged in Europe some 45 million years ago and just 10 million short years later, they shambled across a land bridge from Europe to begin the evolution of the "New World" species.
They're Mammals, Not Reptiles
After catching four moles on the first day of a new job, we were approached by our customer. Upon hearing the news of our success, she frowned and remarked, "Well, its probably too late anyway since they already laid their eggs."
The Great Escape, Part II: The Tunnel
This Herculean effort was highlighted in The Natural History of Coast Mammals by Maser et al., (1981).
"Dr. Murray L. Johnson, curator of mammals, Puget Sound Museum of Natural History, University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington, had a captive mole in the basement of his home. The mole got out of its container onto the concrete floor. Finding a small crack in the floor, it dug its way straight down through the concrete and escaped."
Mole Politics: The Early Years
In 1566, the British Parliament passed an act rewarding the elimination of moles from fields throughout the country.
I Say Chap, It's About Time To Call the Molecatcher
Most mole species create mounds that are relatively small and lack internal structure. The European mole, on the other hand, will occasionally heap an enormous amount of earth into a single mound and establish tunnels throughout the structure. Dubbed "fortresses," a single excavation of this sort can contain over 1,500 pounds of dirt! Imagine watching that pop up on your front lawn.
What Do a Mole and a Llama Have in Common?
The oxygen content of the atmosphere at sea level hovers around 21 percent. In a mole tunnel, it can be as low as six percent. Additionally, the concentration of carbon dioxide in a mole tunnel system can be up to ten times that of the atmosphere. A mole's body is well equipped for life in this environment, with twice as much blood and red hemoglobin in its circulatory system than in those of other mammals of similar size. (Schaefer and Sadleir, 1979).
With its high affinity for oxygen, the blood of a mole resembles more closely that of a llama living in the Andes mountains than the blood of chipmunks which will periodically inhabit abandoned mole burrows! (Jelkmann et al., 1981)
Inventive Mole Trap Designs, Part II: High Technology
Although Perry S. of St. Helens, Oregon doesn't know that moles aren't rodents (and probably would not be able to identify one if it scampered up and bit him in the butt), it did not stop him from inventing the most complex mole trap of all time. Granted US patent number 4,640,043 in 1987, he is clearly banking on landing some fat government contracts to support his otherwise cost-prohibitive design:
An explosive trap for burrowing rodents is comprised of an elastic sack and an associated support frame which are placed in a tunnel that is formed adjacent to the rodent's run. The frame includes a pointed spike which punctures the sack when it expands to a predetermined size upon inflation by the pressurized gas. The resulting explosion provides a concussive shock which kills the rodent.
The sack is fluidly connected to an above ground container which can be filled with the pressurized gas through a length of hose, and a valve located at the outlet of the container normally prevents the gas from flowing from the container into the sack. A trigger located outside of the rodent run above its clean-out hole causes the valve to be opened and release the gas from the container, so that it will inflate the sack, when the rodent pushes more dirt out of the clean-up hole.
The trigger includes an elongate platform, which is suspended above the clean-out hole by means of a rod which is pushed into the ground, and an elongate arm which is pivotally attached to the platform. In one embodiment the valve is opened by means of a battery energized solenoid when mating nodes located on the arm and platform come into contact upon the arm being raised. In another embodiment the valve is mechanically opened upon upward movement of the arm. The trigger can also be utilized for exploding electrically fired pyrotechnic charges if desired.
A Hard Knock Life
On average, approximately 50% of moles will die each year. In fact, except for the first year of life during which young moles face many dangers related to establishing a home territory and only a 35% chance of survival, mole mortality rates are virtually independent of age. (Gorman and Stone, 1990)
Pass the Earthworms, Please
A four ounce mole will eat approximately 40 pounds of food per year, and must consume an amount equivalent to 50-100% of its body weight daily. However, it must be noted this is not dissimilar from the habits of other small mammals due to their equally high metabolic rates. (Mellanby, 1967)
Mole Politics, Part II: The Present Day
In the United Kingdom, Section 8 of the Pests Act (1954) largely prohibits the use of spring traps for catching varmints. However, the Small Ground Vermin Traps Order (1958) exempts traps used for catching moles from the ban. Apparently, the government did not want to impose limitations on the arsenal of devices used to stop moles! This same legislative debate is currently unfolding stateside in Oregon where mole haters are clashing with animal rights activists.
A mole's dense fur is relatively waterproof and can trap large amounts of air, making moles fairly buoyant in the water. Although their stroke is less than elegant, they can swim without tiring for 30-50 minutes and can cover a distance of well over half a mile. (Hickman, 1988)
It was once a common belief that all moles were males before the spring breeding season when half of them became females. This mistaken notion was founded on the similar external appearance of mole genitals. (Smith, 1980)
Turn Out The Lights!
Although their eyes are not very effective, the mole's breeding season is triggered by subtle changes in photoperiod or the amount of daylight in a 24 hour cycle and fine-tuned by temperature. (Godfrey and Crowcroft, 1960)
The Social Mole
Many have jumped to the conclusion that a mole is simply an ill-tempered and anti-social creature that would sooner attack than permit a stranger access to a burrow or two. In a particularly eloquent appraisal of this misconception, Mammologists Gorman and Stone remarked that "so much has been written about the aggressive nature of moles that one might be forgiven for thinking of them as the raging psychopaths of the countryside." In fact, moles will on occasion timeshare tunnels, particularly in areas of high density, and meetings between individuals rarely result in actual combat. (Gorman and Stone, 1990)
The world's largest mole species, the Giant Golden Mole ( Chrysopalax trevelyani ) of Africa, sometimes preys, appropriately enough, on the Giant Earthworm. However, it is only capable of consuming the smallest specimens, as this earthworm can grow to over 20 feet in length and three inches in diameter, and can weigh in at over 75 pounds!
The Hunt is On
In 1700, the annual fee of the molecatcher for the parish of Billingham, England was one pound. The reward for the capture of six moles in 1752 was ninepence or the approximate equivalent of a day's wages! (Mellanby, 1967)
Until the introduction of synthetic materials, the skins of moles were carried by plumbers in England for wiping the joints of pipes to help ensure a good, clean seal.
In parts of the British Isles, the dried front feet of a mole were carried as a traditional folk cure to ward off rheumatism. As of 1967, the practice was still being observed in some enclaves. (Mellanby, 1967)
What Does That Do To Their Backs?
In just 20 minutes, a mole can excavate 10 pounds of soil or an amount equivalent to nearly 50 times its own body weight! To put it in perspective, a 200 pound man would have shovel approximately 10,000 pounds of earth! (Skoczen, 1958)
Home on the Range
The average homerange of a male mole spans 2.8 acres while that of a female covers .7 acres. (Harvey, 1976)
Big Farm Boys
The sizes of the Eastern Mole vary slightly over its vast range with the largest individuals appearing in the upper midwest.
Inventive Mole Trap Designs, Part III: High Technology Revisited
Upon review of the United States Patent and Trademark Office files, it would seem that high-tech mole detonators have fallen out of favor since the mid-1980's. If this is depressing news, take heart! We received a call in early 2002 from a retired electrical engineer intent on discovering a mole's exact body temperature. Although he was rather tight-lipped about his motivations, some cleverly posed questions revealed that he was certainly out to do a few moles some harm! No word yet on his progress.
A mole can tunnel at the rate of 18 feet per hour and can construct 150 feet of tunnels in a single day. It can speed through an established burrow at 80 feet per minute!
The Eastern Mole specimen upon which the great taxonomist Linnaeus based the species description was found dead in water, a fact that was noted on the original collection label. This led him to name the species aquaticus , a terrible misnomer because it is the least adept in the water of all the new world moles! (Whitaker and Hamilton, 1998)
If you have a documented mole byte which bears inclusion in this list please email it to us, we'd love to read it!