Chrysochloridae: Golden Mole Family
The 18 species of golden moles bear a close resemblance to the true moles, but are, in fact, only distantly related. They have cylindrical bodies, short powerful limbs and no visible tail. Their fur is thick and dense and the metallic lustre it imparts gives the group its name. Golden moles are blind, their eyes being reduced to mere vestiges covered by fused hairy eyelids. The shovellike paws on their forelimbs are used for digging, and the enlarged flattened claws on the "index" and middle digits are employed as cutting edges.
Golden moles are found only in Africa, south of a line linking Cameroon with Tanzania. They occur in all habitats from rugged mountainous zones to sandy plains.
There are no species of true mole in Africa. Their niche is filled by another group of insectivores called the golden moles. Found mainly in dry sandy areas, golden moles lead entirely subterranean lives, feeding mainly on insects, such as termites. Golden moles also consume small reptiles, such as geckoes and legless lizards, which the moles encounter buried in the sand. Their underground existence means that the moles have little need for vision, and consequently they have lost the power of sight.
A layer of skin grows over the golden mole's useless eyes, giving them a somewhat bizarre appearance.
Since it is impossible to construct burrows in the dry sands of their desert habitats, golden moles constantly have to plough their way through the sand. Their small but powerful forelimbs are well designed to help them "swim" through sand. They are active at night. By day the golden moles enter a deep sleep, or torpor, which helps them conserve energy. The young are born between October and November. They are suckled for two to three months in a grass-lined nest.
Golden moles may not be able to see, but they do have incredibly acute hearing, being able to pick up the noises made by their insect prey as they move on the surface. Golden moles can pinpoint the precise location of their prey and emerge from below to snatch their meals.
Distribution: South Africa.
Habitat: Coastal sand dunes.
Food: Insects and lizards.
Size: 76 - 87 mm (3 - 3.5 in); 120 - 150 g (0.25 - 0.33 lb).
Breeding: 1 litter of 1 - 2 young born every year.
Life span: Unknown.
Hottentot Golden Mole
Range: South Africa.
Habitat: Sand or peat plains.
Size: Body: 3.25 - 5 in (8.5 - 13 cm); Tail: absent.
The Hottentot golden mole differs from other species in that it has only two claws on each forepaw. When these animals occur in orchards and young plantations, their burrowing may seriously disturb roots and kill the trees, but generally they do more good than harm by eating insects, beetle larvae and other invertebrate pests.
Pairs breed between November and February when rainfall is high. They produce a litter of 2 young.
Cape Golden Mole
Range: South Africa: W. Cape Province.
Habitat: Workable soil up to 9,000 ft (2,800 m).
Size: Body: 30 - 50 in (9 - 14 cm) Tail: absent.
The Cape golden mole is a frequent visitor to gardens and farmland in much of S. Africa. It reveals its presence by raised tunnel tracks radiating out from a bush or shed. At night the moles may travel on the surface, and in damp weather they root about for beetles, worms and grubs.
Once a year, in the rainy season, females produce litters of 2 to 4 young. Shortly before the birth the mother makes a round grass-lined nest in a special breeding chamber. The young suckle for almost 3 months until their teeth erupt.
Giant Golden Mole
Range: South Africa: E. Cape Province.
Size: Body: 8 - 9.5 in (20 - 24 cm) Tail: absent.
As its name implies, the giant golden mole is the largest of its family and weighs up to 3 lb (1.5 kg). It is a rare species and is now on the brink of extinction.
Giant golden moles hunt above ground for beetles, small lizards, slugs and giant earthworms. When disturbed they dart unerringly toward their burrow entrance and safety, but how they are able to locate it is not known.
During the winter rainy season they are believed to produce a litter of 2 young.