Golden moles are small, insectivorous burrowing mammals native to southern Africa. They form the family Chrysochloridae, and so are taxonomically distinct from the true moles. The golden moles bear a remarkable resemblance to the marsupial moles of Australia, so much so that, the marsupial/placental divide notwithstanding, they were once thought to be related.
They range in size from about 8 to about 20 cm. They have muscular shoulders and an enlarged third claw to aid digging on the forelimbs, with no fifth digit and vestigal first and fourth; the hind feet retain all five toes and are webbed to allow efficient backward shoveling of the soil loosened with the front claws. It feeds off small insects , which it triangulates by using its tiny ears to listen to the sound of the long grass in the wind (its ears are natural geophones).
While the desert species simply 'swim' through loose sand, all other species construct permanent burrows. The burrows are relatively complex in form, and may penetrate as far as a metre below ground. They include deep chambers for use as bolt-holes, and others as latrines. Excavated soil is pushed up to the surface as ridges or mole-hills, or is compacted into the tunnel walls.
Females give birth to one to three hairless young in a grass-lined nest within the burrow system. Breeding occurs throughout the year. The adults are solitary, and their burrowing territory may be aggressively defended from intruders, especially where resources are relatively scarce.
Because these mammals were previously thought to have originated in Gondwana, golden moles used to be regarded as rather 'primitive' creatures: their low resting metabolic rate and their ability to switch off thermoregulation when inactive, however, are no longer regarded as indications that golden moles are undeveloped 'reptilian mammals', but rather as essential adaptations to a harsh climate. By going into a torpor when resting or during cold weather, they conserve energy and reduce their need for food. Similarly, they have developed particularly efficient kidneys and most species do not need to drink water at all. Like the tenrecs, they possess a cloaca, and males lack a scrotum.
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