Kingdom: Animalia
     Phylum: Chordata
     Class: Mammalia
     Order: Eulipotyphla
     Family: Talpidae

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General Biology of Moles
   Mole Information:
     Evolution & phylogeny
     General biology
     Mole researchers

   Moles of the World:
    Shrew-like moles
     Asiatic shrew-like moles

     Iberian desman
     Russian desman

     American shrew-mole
     Japanese shrew-moles
     Chinese long-tailed mole

    New World moles
     Broad-footed mole
     Coast mole
     Eastern mole
     Hairy-tailed mole
     Star-nosed mole
     Townsend's mole

    Old World Moles
     Eurasian moles
     Senkaku mole
There are about 30 species of moles worldwide, with North America being home to seven. These moles are widespread in the United States and parts of South-western and Eastern Canada. Often confused with those of gophers and ground-squirrels (rodents), the mounds and meandering tunnel ridges made by these animals in their constant search for food are familiar sites to many North Americans. However, few people have more than vague ideas concerning the nature of the creatures that inhabit them. Relatively speaking, little is known scientifically of these fossorial mammals. In fact, they are among the least understood components of the North American fauna.

Most moles, as commonly recognized and known to the general public, are solitary animals that spend most of their life underground. Notable exceptions are the desmans which are aquatic, the star-nosed mole which is semi-aquatic, and the diminutive shrew-moles that are active foragers both underground and on the surface. Regardless of habit, all species construct two basic types of tunnel: deep, more permanent tunnels, and shallow surface runways. Differences in the extent and nature of these tunnels occur between most species. However, all mole species prefer moist soils where burrowing is easy.

Click here for an enlarged view. Coast mole mound

The population demography and home range sizes of moles is poorly known. However, data suggest that the home ranges of moles may be substantially larger than those of other fossorial mammals.

The food habits of moles have received more attention than many aspects of their biology. The diet is highly variable among species, but in general earthworms, insects, and other invertebrates compose the majority of the diet. However, vegetation is known to comprise a small portion of the diet in most species. Presumably due to the enormous costs of excavating their numerous tunnel galleries, most moles are reported to have a voracious appetite. In fact, one star-nosed mole was noted to consume 1850 earthworms, three mice, one frog and two large grubs in 14 days!

Selected Readings:

Conniff, R. 1994. The mole has a way of undermining our assumptions. Smithsonian 24(12):52-63.

Gorman, M.L and R.D. Stone. The Natural History of Moles. Comstock Publishing Associates. Ithaca, New York. 138pp.

van Zyll de Jong, C.G. Handbook of Canadian mammals. 1. Marsupials and insectivores. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa 210pp.

Yates, T.L. 1983. The mole that keeps its nose clean. Natural History 92:55-60.

Yates, T.L. and R.J. Pedersen. 1982. Moles in J.A. Chapman and G.A. Feldhamer (eds): Wild mammals of North America. Baltimore:Johns Hopkins University Press, pp. 37-51.

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  (Text © K. Campbell 1998-2009)