are the majority of the members of the mammal family Talpidae
in the order Soricomorpha
. Although most moles burrow, some species are aquatic or semi-aquatic. Moles have cylindrical bodies covered in fur, with small or covered eyes; the ears are generally not visible. They eat small invertebrate
animals living underground. Moles can be found in North America
Male moles are called boars; females are called sows. A group
of moles is called a labor
. By the era of Early Modern English
the mole was also known in the British Isle as mouldywarp
, a name echoed in other Germanic languages
such as Norwegian
) and German
A mole's diet primarily consists of earthworms
and other small invertebrates found in the soil. The mole may also occasionally catch small mice at the entrance to its burrow. Because their saliva contains a toxin that can paralyze earthworms, moles are able to store their still living prey for later consumption. They construct special underground "larders" for just this purpose; researchers have discovered such larders with over a thousand earthworms in them. Before eating earthworms, moles pull them between their squeezed paws to force the collected earth and dirt out of the worm's gut.
The Star-nosed Mole
can detect, catch and eat food faster than the human eye can follow (under 300 milliseconds).
cites moles as an example of mammals that have organs that have become vestigial and are being phased out by natural selection:
The eyes of moles and of some burrowing rodents are rudimentary in size, and in some cases are quite covered by skin and fur. This state of the eyes is probably due to gradual reduction from disuse, but aided perhaps by natural selection. In South America, a burrowing rodent, the tuco-tuco, or Ctenomys, is even more subterranean in its habits than the mole; and I was assured by a Spaniard, who had often caught them, that they were frequently blind. One which I kept alive was certainly in this condition, the cause, as appeared on dissection, having been inflammation of the nictitating membrane. As frequent inflammation of the eyes must be injurious to any animal, and as eyes are certainly not necessary to animals having subterranean habits, a reduction in their size, with the adhesion of the eyelids and growth of fur over them, might in such case be an advantage; and if so, natural selection would aid the effects of disuse. (Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species, The Origin of Species/Chapter V)
The Talpidae family is divided into 3 subfamilies, 7 tribes, and 17 genera. The genera bolded in the listing below are the ones whose species are called moles:
Moles are considered to be an agricultural pest in some countries, while in others, such as Germany
, they are a protected species but may be killed if a permit is received. Problems cited as caused by moles include contamination of silage
with soil particles making it unpalatable to livestock
, the covering of pasture with fresh soil reducing its size and yield, damage to agricultural machinery by the exposure of stones, damage to young plants through disturbance of the soil, weed invasion of pasture through exposure of fresh tilled soil, and damage to drainage systems and watercourses. Other species such as weasels
may use mole tunnels to gain access to enclosed areas or plant roots.
Moles burrow in lawns, raising molehills, and killing the lawn, for which they are sometimes considered pests. They can undermine plant roots, indirectly causing damage or death. Contrary to popular belief, moles do not eat plant roots.
They are controlled with traps, smoke bombs, and poisons such as calcium carbide and strychnine.
Other common remedies for moles include cat litter and blood meal, to repel the mole, or flooding or smoking its burrow. There are also devices sold to trap the mole in its burrow, when one sees the "mole hill" moving and therefore knows where the animal is, and then stabbing it. Humane traps which capture the mole alive so that it may be transported elsewhere are also options.
Several groups of animals have a similar burrowing lifestyle, and some have developed close physical similarities with moles, forming good examples of convergent evolution.
Mole-like mammals are found in the family Chrysochloridae (the golden moles) and the family Notoryctidae (the marsupial moles). These are not related to true moles, but like moles they live underground and are insectivorous.
There are also similar-looking rodents called mole-rats. These do live underground, but are herbivorous.
Mole-crickets are large burrowing insects which have strong digging forelimbs remarkably like those of moles.