Hello nature fans!
I’m starting a new blog series all about wildlife, focusing on a particular species each time in depth. In general, I’ll probably talk about the features of the species, the role it fulfills within its ecosystem, the folklore surrounding it, and species idiosyncrasies, including a few interesting facts. I’m starting with the humble mole.
A nocturnal creature that is practically blind, it moves awkwardly above ground and expertly tunnels below. This mammal digs and tunnels its way through the soil, leaving those familiar molehills dotted about the landscape. They have sharp claws, soft velvety fur and eat earthworms and, surprisingly, nuts.
How to spot a mole
The Norfolk Wildlife Trust gives this helpful advice on how to identify moles:
The European mole is a small mammal with a body length of between 10-14cm, weighing between 75-120g. They have a cylindrical body covered with dense black fur, a pointed snout, short tail and spade like forelegs with long sharp claws which they use for digging tunnels.
If you manage to get really close to a mole you might be able to notice that they have an extra thumb on their forepaws, a feature that evolution has decided is helpful for moles, meaning that they basically have two thumbs. You can find moles all over the UK and they seem to be doing fine, despite some gardeners and landowners viewing them as pests.
Moles primarily eat earthworms, which they collect underground in specially built ‘mole runs’ that are essentially a series of tunnels – the mole can sense when a worm falls into the channel and quickly locates and eats it. They can even store earthworms in their larders to eat later as their saliva contains a toxin that paralyses the worm.
Moles breed between February and May. Males woo females by wandering into unknown territory and letting off high-pitched squeals. If a match is successful, the young are born between March and April and each brood generally contains 3-5 youngsters, who depart the nest after about 6 weeks.
- Moles can dig 20 yards of tunnels each day.
- A mole can dig through 14m in 1 hour
- Males are called ‘boars’, females ‘sows’, and a group of moles is a ‘labour’.
- They have a complex mental map of their undergound tunnels.
- The texture of fur allows it to lie in any direction so it can easily reverse in a tunnel.
- They have no external ears.
The Burrow by Kafka
Franz Kafka wrote an exceptional story about a mole. It was unfinished and published posthumously, like most of his work, and it’s the most strikingly strange idea: essentially a monologue by a mole, who adores his carefully constructed underground palace of tunnels and feels an ever-growing threat of ‘the beast’ who could shatter it at any moment. Read into that what you will. Human irrationality and anxiety of an inevitable yet unidentifiable destroyer (i.e. death)? If you’re interested, you can buy it here.
Here are a few photos of a mole I managed to take at Strumpshaw in Norfolk in the summer. I just happened to see one above ground – a very rare treat.