Known prey organisms

Talpidae preys on:
Eumeces fasciatus

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Limbs dig efficiently: echigo mole

Echigo moles and other digging animals break the soil surface and move as much earth as possible per stroke with short, powerful limbs and sharp claws.

  "Quite different in character are the feet of the diggers, animals that habitually burrow into the earth. The friction drag of moving through the ground is potentially enormous, so the size of the limbs and the area through which they move must be kept to an absolute minimum; but at the same time, great strength is needed. The limbs of animals that lead an almost completely subterranean life, like the mole, are short and thick, and their feet are broad and powerful. Each short stroke of a foot must move as much earth as possible, and the mole's feet are spade-like with widely spaced digits. In addition, the claws of digging animals are usually large, sharp and strong, to do the work of a pickaxe in breaking the soil surface. The aardvark of South Africa (its Afrikaans name, 'earth-pig', refers to its rather pig-like head) is a curious animal that digs for food in termite's nests. Its feet are short and massive with large, almost hoof-like claws on each toe. It is said that one aardvark can dig a hole faster than six men with shovels. Not only does it dig into termite nests to eat the insects, the aardvark digs burrows 4m or more in length in which to hide during the day.

The armadillos of Central and South America are also powerful diggers, able to conceal themselves at amazing speed; they too have short, strong legs with daunting claws. The feet of the giant anteater, another excavator of ant and termite nests, are not massive as those of the aardvark. They are long and curved -- so much so that the anteater is forced to walk on the sides of its feet with an ungainly bow-legged gait. The anteater is a scratch-digger, not a maker of burrows, so its claws do not need to be as large." (Foy and Oxford Scientific Films 1982:179-180)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Foy, Sally; Oxford Scientific Films. 1982. The Grand Design: Form and Colour in Animals. Lingfield, Surrey, U.K.: BLA Publishing Limited for J.M.Dent & Sons Ltd, Aldine House, London. 238 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records: 47
Specimens with Sequences: 44
Specimens with Barcodes: 44
Species: 15
Species With Barcodes: 15
Public Records: 22
Public Species: 6
Public BINs: 7
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Barcode data

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The family Talpidae includes the moles, shrew moles, desmans, and other intermediate forms of small insectivorous mammals of the order Soricomorpha. Talpids are all digging animals to various degrees: moles are completely subterranean animals; shrew moles and shrew-like moles somewhat less so; and desmans, while basically aquatic, excavate dry sleeping chambers; whilst the quite unique star-nosed mole is equally adept in the water and underground. Talpids are found across the Northern Hemisphere and southern Asia, Europe, and North America, although none are found in Ireland nor anywhere in the Americas south of northern Mexico.

The first talpids evolved from shrew-like animals which adapted to digging late in the Eocene in Europe. The most primitive living talpids are believed to be the shrew-like moles, with other species having adapted further into the subterranean, and, in some cases, aquatic lifestyles.[2]


Talpids are small, dark-furred animals with cylindrical bodies and hairless, tubular snouts. They range in size from the tiny shrew moles of North America, as small as 2.4 cm in length and weighing under 12 grams, to the Russian desman, with a body length of 18–22 cm, and a weight of about 550 grams. The fur varies between species, but is always dense and short; desmans have waterproof undercoats and oily guard hairs, while the subterranean moles have short, velvety fur lacking any guard hairs. The forelimbs of moles are highly adapted for digging, with powerful claws, and the paws turned permanently outwards to aid in shovelling dirt away from the front of the body. By contrast, desmans have webbed paws with a fringe of stiff fur to aid in swimming. Moles generally have short tails, but those of desmans are elongated and flattened.[3]

All species have small eyes and poor eyesight, but only a few are truly blind.[3] The external ears are very small or absent.[4] Talpids rely primarily on their sense of touch, having sensory vibrissae on their faces, legs, and tails. Their flexible snouts are particularly sensitive. Desmans are able to close both their nostrils and ears while diving. Unusually, the penis of talpids points backwards, and they have no scrotum.[3]

Females have six or eight teats. Both sexes have claws on all five fingers and on all five toes. The paw has an additional bone called the os falciforme. In burrowing moles, the clavicle and the humeral head are connected. The tibia and the fibula are partially fused in all talpids. The pubis does not connect the two halves of the pelvic girdle. The skull is long, narrow, and rather flattened.[4]

Talpids are generally insectivorous. Moles eat earthworms, insect larvae, and occasionally slugs, while desmans eat aquatic invertebrates such as shrimps, insect larvae, and snails. Talpids have relatively unspecialized teeth, with the dental formula:



Krticin rad.JPG

Desmans and shrew moles are primarily nocturnal, but moles are active day and night, usually travelling above ground only under cover of darkness. Most moles dig permanent burrows, and subsist largely on prey that falls into them. The shrew moles dig burrows to access deep sleeping chambers, but forage for food on the forest floor by night. Desmans dig burrows in riverbanks for shelter and forage in the water of rivers and lakes. The star-nosed mole is able to make a living much as other moles do, but are also very capable aquatic creatures, where they are able to smell underwater by using their unique proboscis to hold out a bubble of air into the water.

Talpids appear to be generally quite antisocial animals, and although at least one species, the star-nosed mole, will share burrows, talpids are known to engage in much territorial behavior, including extraordinarily fast battles.[3]


The family is divided into three subfamilies, 17 genera and 46 species.

Unrelated mammals built like moles[edit]

The following mammals have burrowing habits, and have by virtue of convergent evolution many derived characters in common with true moles from the Talpidae family but are nonetheless unrelated.

Relationship with humans[edit]

All species in the Talpidae family are classed as "prohibited new organisms" under New Zealand's Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996, preventing them from being imported into the country.[8]


  1. ^ Hutterer, R. (2005). Wilson, D. E.; Reeder, D. M, eds. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 300–311. ISBN 978-0-8018-8221-0. OCLC 62265494. 
  2. ^ Savage, RJG, & Long, MR (1986). Mammal Evolution: an illustrated guide. New York: Facts on File. p. 53. ISBN 0-8160-1194-X. 
  3. ^ a b c d Gorman, Martyn (1984). Macdonald, D., ed. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York: Facts on File. pp. 766–769. ISBN 0-87196-871-1. 
  4. ^ a b Grzimek, Bernhard. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Volume 10: Mammals I. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1975. Print.
  5. ^ Yates, Terry L. and Jorge Salazar-Bravo. (2004). "A Revision Of Scapanus latimanus, with the Revalidation of a Species Of Mexican Mole". In Sánchez-Cordero V. y Medellín R.A. (Eds.). Contribuciones Mastozoológicas En Homenaje A Bernardo Villa. Instituto De Biología e Ins Tituto De Ecología, Unam, México. pp. 479–496. 
  6. ^ Redescription of the Malaysian Mole as to be a true species Euroscaptor malayana
  7. ^
  8. ^ Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 2003 - Schedule 2 Prohibited new organisms, New Zealand Government, retrieved 26 January 2012 
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Mole (animal)

This article is about mammals called "moles". For other uses, see Mole (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Vole.

Moles are small cylindrical mammals adapted to a subterranean lifestyle. They have velvety fur; very small, difficult to see ears and eyes,[1] reduced hindlimbs; and short, powerful forelimbs with large paws positioned for digging. The term "mole" is especially and most properly used for true moles of the Talpidae family in the order Soricomorpha found in most parts of North America,[2] Asia, and Europe although may refer to other completely unrelated mammals of Australia and southern Africa which have also evolved the mole body plan; it is not commonly used for some talpids, such as desmans and shrew-moles, which do not quite fit the common definition of "mole".


By the era of Early Modern English, the mole was also known in English as mouldywarp, a word having cognates in other Germanic languages such as German (Maulwurf),[3] and Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and Icelandic (muldvarp, mullvad, moldvarpa), where the muld/mull/mold part of the word means soil and the varp/vad/varpa part means throw, hence "one who throws soil" or "dirt tosser".

Male moles are called "boars", females are called "sows". A group of moles is called a "labour".[4]


Breathing underground[edit]

Moles have been found to tolerate higher levels of carbon dioxide than other mammals, because their blood cells have a special and unique hemoglobin protein. Moles are able to reuse the oxygen inhaled when above ground, and as a result, are able to survive in low-oxygen environments such as underground burrows.[5]

Extra thumb[edit]

Mole paw

Moles have polydactyl forepaws; each has an extra thumb (also known as a prepollex) next to the regular thumb. While the mole's other digits have multiple joints, the prepollex has a single, sickle-shaped bone which develops later and differently from the other fingers during embryogenesis from a transformed sesamoid bone in the wrist, independently evolved but similar to the giant panda thumb. This supernumerary digit is species-specific, as it is not present in shrews, the mole's closest relatives. Androgenic steroids are known to affect the growth and formation of bones, and a connection is possible between this species-specific trait and the "male" genitals apparatus in female moles of many mole species (gonads with testicular and ovary tissues). [6]


A mole's diet primarily consists of earthworms and other small invertebrates found in the soil, and a variety of nuts. The mole runs are in reality 'worm traps', the mole sensing when a worm falls into the tunnel and quickly running along to kill and eat it.[7] 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.[8]

The star-nosed mole can detect, catch and eat food faster than the human eye can follow. [9]


Breeding season for a mole depends on species but is generally February through May. Males search for females by letting out high-pitched squeals and tunneling through foreign areas.

The gestation period of the Eastern (US) mole (Scalopus aquaticus) is approximately 42 days. Three to five young are born, mainly in March and early April.[10]

Townsend moles mate in February and March, and the 2–4 young are born in March and April after a gestation period of about 1 month.[11] The Townsend mole is endangered in the United States and Canada.[12]

Coast moles produce a litter of 2–5 pups between March and April.[12]

Pups leave the nest 30–45 days after birth to find territories of their own.

Social structure[edit]

Moles are solitary creatures, coming together only to mate. Territories may overlap, but moles avoid each other and males may fight fiercely if they meet.


The family Talpidae contains all the true moles and some of their close relatives. Desmans, which are Talpidae but are not normally called "moles", are not shown below, but belong to the subfamily Talpinae (note the slightly different name). Those species called "shrew moles" represent an intermediate form between the moles and their shrew ancestors, and as such may not be fully described by the article.

On the other hand, there is no monophyletic relation between the mole and the hedgehog, both of which were previously placed in the now abandoned order Insectivora. As a result, Soricomorpha ("shrew-like animals" including moles), previously within Insectivora, has been elevated to the level of an order. [13]

Other "moles"[edit]

While many groups of burrowing animals (pink fairy armadillos, tuco-tucos, mole rats, mole crickets and mole crabs) have developed close physical similarities with moles due to convergent evolution, two of these are so similar to true moles, they are commonly called and thought of as "moles" in common English, although they are completely unrelated to true moles or to each other. These are the golden moles of southern Africa and the marsupial moles of Australia. While difficult to distinguish from each other, they are most easily distinguished from true moles by shovel-like patches on their noses which they use in tandem with their abbreviated forepaws to swim through sandy soils.

The golden moles[edit]

A golden mole

The golden moles belong to the same branch on the tree of life as the tenrecs, called Tenrecomorpha or Afrosoricida, which in turn stem from a main branch of placental mammals called the Afrosoricida. This means they share a closer common ancestor with such existing afrosoricids as elephants, manatees, and aardvarks than they do with other placental mammals such as true Talpidae moles.

Marsupial moles[edit]

A marsupial mole

As marsupials, these moles are even more distantly related to true Talpidae moles than golden moles, both of which belong to the eutheria, or placental mammals. This means they are more closely related to such existing Australian marsupials as kangaroos or koalas, and even to a lesser extent to American marsupials, such as opossums than they are to placental mammals such as golden or Talpidae moles.

Class Mammalia

Interaction with humans[edit]


Advertisement in Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, 1921

Moles' pelts have a velvety texture not found in surface animals. Surface-dwelling animals tend to have longer fur with a natural tendency for the nap to lie in a particular direction, but to facilitate their burrowing lifestyle, mole pelts are short and very dense and have no particular direction to the nap. This makes it easy for moles to move backwards underground, as their fur is not "brushed the wrong way". The leather is extremely soft and supple. Queen Alexandra, the wife of Edward VII of the United Kingdom, ordered a mole-fur garment to start a fashion that would create a demand for mole fur, thereby turning what had been a serious pest problem in Scotland into a lucrative industry for the country. Hundreds of pelts are cut into rectangles and sewn together to make a coat. The natural color is taupe, but it is readily dyed any color.[14]

Pest status[edit]

Molehills in eastern Bohemia

Moles are considered to be agricultural pests 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 freshly tilled soil, and damage to drainage systems and watercourses. Other species such as weasels and voles may use mole tunnels to gain access to enclosed areas or plant roots.

Moles burrow lawns, raising molehills, and killing the lawn, for which they are sometimes considered pests. They can undermine plant roots, indirectly causing damage or death. Moles do eat plant roots.[15]

A mole trap

Moles are controlled with traps such as mole-catchers, smoke bombs, and poisons such as calcium carbide. Strychnine was also used for this purpose in the past. The most common method now is Phostoxin or Talunex tablets. They contain aluminium phosphide and are inserted in the mole tunnels, where they turn into phosphine gas (not be confused with phosgene gas). More recently, high-grade nitrogen gas has proven effective at killing moles, with the added advantage of having no polluting effect to the environment. [15]

Other common defensive measures include cat litter and blood meal, to repel the mole, or flooding or smoking its burrow. Devices are also 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 it may be transported elsewhere are also options.[15]

However, in many gardens, the damage caused by moles to lawns is mostly visual, and it is also possible to simply remove the earth of the molehills as they appear, leaving their permanent galleries for the moles to continue their existence underground.[15]However, when the tunnels are near the surface, they collapse when the ground is soft after heavy rain and leave unsightly furrows in the lawn.


Although the mole can be safely eaten by humans, the taste is said to be deeply unpleasant.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kott, Ondřej; Sumbera, Radim; Nemec, Pavel (2010). "Light Perception in Two Strictly Subterranean Rodents: Life in the Dark or Blue?". In Iwaniuk, Andrew. PLoS ONE 5 (7): e11810. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0011810. PMC 2911378. PMID 20676369. 
  2. ^ Kevin Campbell. "Mole Distribution Maps". University of Manitoba. Retrieved 2010-03-11. 
  3. ^ Rackham, Oliver, The Illustrated History Of The Countryside page 130 (quoting J. Seddon, The boke of surveying and improvments – [sic]) ISBN 0-297-84335-4
  4. ^ "Moles". 
  5. ^ "Secret of how moles breathe underground revealed". The Telegraph. 20 July 2010. 
  6. ^ "How the mole got its twelve fingers". University of Zurich. 12 July 2011. Retrieved July 2011. 
  7. ^ Moles. Retrieved on 2012-05-12.
  8. ^ The Life of Mammals, David Attenborough, 2002
  9. ^ Salisbury, David F. (February 2005). "Marsh-dwelling mole gives new meaning to the term 'fast food'". EurekAlert. Retrieved July 2011. 
  10. ^ "Moles their biology and control". Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  11. ^ Scapanus townsendii. California Department of Fish and Game
  12. ^ a b "Coast Mole Control and Trapping". Retrieved 2013-10-10. 
  13. ^ Mouchaty, Suzette K.; Gullberg, Anette; Janke, Axel; Arnason, Ulfur (2000). "The Phylogenetic Position of the Talpidae Within Eutheria Based on Analysis of Complete Mitochondrial Sequences". Mol Biol Evol 17 (1): 60–67. doi:10.1093/oxfordjournals.molbev.a026238. PMID 10666706. 
  14. ^ "Furs types in brief". Archived from the original on 2011-07-21. Retrieved 6 October 2010. 
  15. ^ a b c d "How to get rid of moles". 2004. Retrieved July 2011. 
  16. ^ Howard, Martin (2010-04-01). "Why we need eccentricity". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2010-05-13. 
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