European Mole : Out of sight, out of mind

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The European mole, Tapla europaea, is an often over-looked species in Britain. Many people will walk past a mole hill on a weekly basis and many children will be able to tell you what a mole is. However, a fair-sized portion of the British public will have no idea what a mole actually looks like or what it does on a daily basis. Even in conservation, the mole is often under recorded compared to other species of mammal here in Britain. This is largely due to the fact that the mole spends the majority of its life underground, minimising interactions between people and moles. “Out of sight, out of mind” is a good quote to couple with the mole for I am sure that if more people saw these beautiful creatures, they would get more positive attention.

European Mole : Out of sight, out of mind

Appearance

The European mole has a long, rounded body usually up to 16cm covered in soft, velvet fur. Although moles are usually black, their fur colour can be highly variable, including shades of brown, white and blue. They have very small eyes, no external ears and their nose is bald, apart from whiskers. They have a very small tail, usually no longer than 4cm. They have large paws that they use for digging, with their fore paws being much larger than their back paws.

Lifecycle

Moles are usually solitary creatures and both sexes aggressively defend their territories. However during the breeding season males extend their tunnels to search for females and they come together to mate. The season starts in spring and usually extends from March until May.

Gestation lasts for 4 weeks and a single litter is produced, with 2-7 young present in a litter. Young suckle for a month before leaving the nest, which they do by exiting through a mole hill and running above ground until they find a suitable place to burrow again. When they do this, you can see the small evacuation hole left in the mole hill.

Moles live for between 2 – 5 years.

Behaviour

Moles spend the majority of their lives underground, within their extensive burrow networks. Within their individual networks, they have tunnels for collecting food and tunnels for storing food. They also have a larger tunnel for nesting, which they fill with dry vegetation such as leaves, and sleep in during the day.

European Mole : Out of sight, out of mind

Moles spend the majority of their waking hours feeding. They predominantly feed on earthworms that they find either in their burrows, or when digging in the soil. They will also feed on a variety of other soil invertebrates.

Distribution

The European mole is widespread in Britain and is classed as a species of least concern on the IUCN Red List.

They can be found in any habitat where the soil is sufficient to create large burrows, however they do show a preference for farmland, gardens and parks. They do not like habitats with sandy or water logged soil as this makes burrowing difficult.

European Mole : Out of sight, out of mind

History

The European mole is seen as a pest by many farmers and horticulturalists and has been persecuted heavily because of this. Historically the mole was often subjected to harsh pest control methods, often using brutal and cruel methods. As time has progressed these methods have improved somewhat, however some rather nasty methods of control are still used today, including a licensed poison that causes a slow and painful death.

Dead European moles hung up on fence after being killed by farmer
Dead European moles hung up on fence after being killed by farmer

As you can see, the European mole is quite an interesting creature. Unfortunately, you may never get the chance to see a mole (unless it is dead as they sometimes show up). However, that doesn’t mean you can’t interact with a mole. In the early morning, moles are usually busy at work tunnelling and if your lucky, you can see the tunnel being made. The trick is to spot the mole hills that are made up of fresh, usually wet, soil. Sit close to them for a few minutes and often the mole will continue digging, giving you a rare glimpse into the life of this secretive creature… Occasionally you may even get a glimpse of the animal itself- if your really lucky.

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