Talpidae: Mole Family

The majority of the 29 species of mole lead an underground life, but 2 species of desman and the star-nosed mole are adapted for an aquatic life. Moles are widespread throughout Europe and Asia, south to the Himalayas, and from southern Canada to northern Mexico. They need habitats with soft soil so that they are able to dig their extensive burrow systems.

All moles have highly modified hands and forearms, which act as pickax and shovel combined. Moles seldom come above ground and their eyes are tiny and covered with hairy skin. Their tactile sense is highly developed, however, and their facial bristles respond to the tiniest vibrations. Moles can move backwards or forwards with equal ease — when reversing, the stumpy tail is held erect and the sensory hairs on it provide warning of any approaching danger.


Pacific Mole

Range: North America: British Columbia to Baja California.

Habitat: Well-drained deciduous forest.

Size: Body: 4.5 - 7.25 in (11 - 18.5 cm); Tail: 0.75 - 2.25 in (2 - 5.5 cm).

The Pacific, or coast, mole and its close relatives, the broad-footed mole and Townsend’s mole, all have nostrils which open upward. Their eyes are much more visible than those of other species, but this does not necessarily mean that their sight is better. Like other moles, they live underground and rarely venture up to the surface.

Coast moles feed on earthworms and soil-dwelling larvae and do much good by devouring the larvae of insect pests. Between 2 and 5 young are born in early spring after a 4-week gestation period.


Asian Mole

There are six species of mole living in South-east Asia, southern China and Japan. Like the more familiar European moles, they spend much of their time underground and their bodies have a number of special adaptations to suit their subterranean lifestyle.

Members of the mole family, the Talpidae, generally dig tunnels in soil where earthworms are in abundance, along with other prey, and where they are safe from marauding predators. They possess large, powerful front paws on short, stocky forelimbs, which enable them to dig rapidly through even hard ground while using their shovel-like snouts to push loose soil aside.

Like other moles, Asian moles have short, velvety hair that will lie in the direction in which it is brushed. This makes it easy for moles to move both forward and backwards through tight tunnels.

The Asian moles have the largest front paws in relation to body size of all the moles. In the darkness of their tunnels they have no need of sight and so their eyes are tiny, and probably only able to detect light and dark. However, like many other moles they are very sensitive to ground vibrations, and can use them to find moving prey.

Two species of Asian mole have become rare due to habitat destruction, and one of these species, from a small region of Vietnam, is considered to be critically endangered.

Distribution: Nepal, Sikkim, Assam, northern Burma and southern China.

Habitat: Forests with deep soils in mountainous regions.

Food: Insects, earthworms and other soil invertebrates.

Size: 10 - 16 cm (4 - 6.5 in); 29 g (0.06 lb).

Maturity: Not known.

Breeding: Litters of 2 - 5 young.

Life span: Not known.

Status: Lower risk.


Blind Mole

Size: 9.5 - 14 cm (3.75 - 5.5 in); 65 - 120 g (0.14 - 0.25 lb).

Unlike the common European mole, the blind mole of southern Europe is physically unable to open its eyes. It has membranous coverings over them, which it cannot pull back. However, the membranes do allow some light through, and it is said that blind moles are not totally insensitive to the visual world, being able to react to changes in light and dark.


American Shrew Mole

Size: 7 - 9 cm (2.75 - 3.5 in); 8 - 14.5 g (0.3 - 0.5 oz).

The smallest American mole, this species is the size of a large shrew. Shrew moles range from northern California to southern British Colombia. They tunnel in soft, deep peaty soils, especially those formed by the highly fertile rainforests of North America's northern Pacific coast. They must eat about one-and-a-half times their body weight in insects and worms each day to survive.


Townsend's Mole

Size: 18 - 24 cm (7 - 9.5 in); 100 - 170 g (3.5 - 6 oz).

Confined to a small range between the Cascade Mountains and the Pacific coast of California, Oregon and Washington, Townsend’s mole is the largest mole in North America. This species lives in lowland areas with deep, loamy soil. The mole preys on earthworms and insect larvae by patrolling their territories through a permanent network of tunnels.