Blesmols are somewhat mole-like animals with cylindrical bodies and short limbs. They range from in length, and from in weight, depending on the species. Blesmols, like many other fossorial mammals, have greatly reduced eyes and ear pinnae, a relatively short tail, loose skin, and (aside from the hairless Naked Mole Rat) velvety fur. Blesmols appear to be entirely blind, although they may use the surfaces of their eyes for sensing air currents. Despite their small or absent pinnae, they have a good sense of hearing, although their most important sense appears to be that of touch. Like other rodents, they have an excellent sense of smell, and they are also able to close their nostrils during digging to prevent them clogging with dirt.
Most blesmol species dig using their powerful incisors and, to a lesser extent, the foreclaws, although dune blesmols dig primarily with their feet, restricting them to soft, sandy soil. Dune blesmols aside, some species have been reported to be able to extend their burrows by an inch into the walls of concrete enclosures. Their unique skull shape is associated with delivering sheer power to the lateral masseter muscle which is responsible for the powerful bite of the anterior portion of the mouth. The incisors of blesmols are projected forward and protrude from the mouth even when the mouth is closed. This condition allows the animals to burrow with their teeth without getting dirt in their mouths. The number of cheek teeth varies greatly between species, an unusual feature among rodents, so that the dental formula for the family is:
These animals prefer loose, sandy soils and are often associated with arid habitats. They rarely come to the surface, spending their entire life underground. Blesmols are herbivorous, and primarily eat roots, tubers, and bulbs. They are even able to pull smaller plants underground by their roots, without having to leave their burrows, enabling them to eat leaves, stems, and other parts of the plant that would otherwise be inaccessible. Blesmols burrow in search of food, and the great majority of their tunnel complex consists of these foraging burrows, surrounding a smaller number of storage areas, nests, and latrine chambers.
Most species breed only once or twice during the year, although some breed all year round. They generally have small litters of two to five young, perhaps because their environment is sufficiently safe that they do not need to rapidly replace their population as many other rodents do. However, some species have much larger litters, averaging twelve young in the naked mole rat, and sometimes much larger.
At present 22 species of blesmols from 6 genera are accepted, but this number is likely to increase. Like other fossorial rodents such as pocket gophers, tuco-tucos, and blind mole rats, blesmols appear to speciate rapidly. They become geographically isolated easily leading to various chromosomal forms and genetically distinct races. Some studies have suggested that the genus Bathyergus represents the basal-most lineage but most researchers accept that Heterocephalus holds that position.