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Scientific Name: Scalapus aquaticus
Moles in your yard and garden may be one of more than seven (7) species of moles that reside in the United States. Common visitors to yards and garden areas and, as many have found, they can cause a bit of a headache.
Living most exclusively underground all moles have many traits that make this type of life tolerable with visual sightings of the animals quite rare. The seven (7) species include the Eastern, Star-Nosed, Hairy-Tailed, American Shrew, Broad-Footed, Coast and Townsend’s Moles. Several more species live in China and Europe.
Moles of every species have certain common physical characteristics because of their underground lifestyle. Living underground requires certain senses more than others. For example you will hard pressed to find moles with good vision. Their eyes are very small and covered with a layer of skin followed by a layer of fur. The same goes for their ears only more extreme; they do not have any external parts to them and the ear canal/opening is covered with fur.
The fur of these animals is also conducive to the dirt filled underground world in which they live. It is very fine and short with a flat shaft. Perhaps the most interesting trait of the mole’s fur is that it can lie flat facing frontwards or backwards. The direction depends on the direction the animal is moving at that particular time.
Diggers by nature moles have distinctive features to assist them during their travels that vary by species. The Eastern, Hairy-Tailed, Coast, Star-Nosed, Broad-Footed and Townsend’s Moles have forepaws that are oriented sideways whereas the American Shrew Mole has feet that face front. In all varieties the paws are wider than long and are webbed. The Broad-Footed Mole has, as its name hints to, has a wider foot than the other varieties. All of the North American mole species have sharp outward facing claws atop their front and rear feet that are narrower and longer than the front. In fact, the Chehalis Indian word for mole literally means "hands turned backward".
The most common, and most well known physical feature of the mole is the long slender snout. This snout is normal hairless and in the case of the Eastern Mole extends about ½ inch in front of the mouth.
The Eastern Mole will reach an average total length of seven (7) inches including a one and a quarter (1 ¼) inch tail. The weight of the Eastern Mole is about four (4) ounces.
The Star-Nosed mole has a very unique physical characteristic that, according to experts, is not known to present on any other mammal in world, a star nose! This nose consists of 22 appendages surrounding its nostrils. They have recently determined that these “fingers” are actually sensitive organs used to manipulate objects.
As with most underground animals moles do not hibernate and are active year round. This is most likely due to the warmth retained by the earth below the surface. It has been noted, however, that their activity will remain in the lower portions of their tunnels during periods of extreme cold and heat.
Moles are diggers and, with only rare exceptions, spend the majority of their lives underground. The one (1) exception is the American Shrew Mole which spends a great deal of time above ground and may even climb trees. Moles spend their time in underground tunnels constructed with their large shovel like feet. Moles will build two (2) types of tunnels. The tunnel most disliked by homeowners is their surface tunnels. These tunnels are located only one (1) to four (4) inches below the surface. You might recognize these three (3) inch wide ridges in your yard. These tunnels are used for feeding and may only be used once. The surface tunnels are connected to the second, deeper type of tunnels made by moles.
The deeper tunnels made by these mammals are three (3) to twelve (12) inches below the surface and are represent their main mode of transportation. These tunnels will lead to the surface tunnels and to the main nesting chamber below the earth. The deeper tunnels are about two (2) inches wide.
Moles are able to dig up to fifteen (15) feet per hour! Digging is most pronounced when the soils are moist in the spring and fall. What happens to all that dirt? It gets pushed out of the tunnels to the surface with those wide front feet leaving a mound, otherwise known as the “Molehill”.
The Eastern Mole will create hills approximately 7 inches high and 17 inches wide, but the Coast Mole will produce smaller hills. On average moles will create four (4) hills per day, during the spring and fall when the soils and wetter and digging activity is ramped up. The Coast Mole has been known to make 200 to 400 hills in one (1) season. The American Shrew Mole on the other hand does not normally create molehills at all.
Family interests are simple. The mole normally has only one (1) litter per year. Family size is limited to three (3) or four (4) young who arrive in March or April.
Mole Benefits & Detriments to Humans and the Ecosystem
Moles are very beneficial to the ecosystem. Their constant digging aerates and mixes the soils in your yard creating a much healthier yard and wild places where they live. Unfortunately all that digging sometimes dislodges plants that homeowners may be particularly fond of. Additionally, other animals including voles and house mice utilize the burrow passages of moles.