Eastern Mole

Scalopus aquaticus

mole.jpg

eastern mole
MDC Staff
Family

Talpidae (moles) in the order Soricomorpha (shrew-form mammals)

Description

The eastern mole is chipmunk-sized, though it is not a rodent; it has palmlike, short front feet that are held over the head with palms facing outward. The mole uses its large hands to move through the soil in about the same way a person swims underwater. The head looks nearly featureless except for the flexible, piglike snout. Although the mole’s eyes are only good for telling light from dark, its senses of hearing, touch, and smell are acute. The velvety fur is characteristically slate gray but often appears silvery on freshly groomed moles and sooty black on juveniles. A cinnamon-brown staining on the chin and along the middle of the belly is common on adults. The tail is nearly naked and is highly sensitive to touch.

Size

Total length: 5½–8 inches; tail length: ¾–1½ inches; weight: 1–5 ounces.

Habitat and conservation

Moles live in a series of tunnels underground and may be found wherever the soil is sufficiently thick, pliable, and adhesive enough to support a tunnel system and is adequately populated with grubs, earthworms, and other prey items. In most cases it is not necessary to manage moles; to ensure healthy soils, their presence should be tolerated. When their presence cannot be tolerated at all, traps are usually the most effective way to control them.

Foods

Grubs and earthworms constitute the bulk of their diet. They also prey on other soil-dwelling creatures such as beetles, spiders, centipedes, ant pupae, and cutworms. In fact, a mole can harvest more than 140 grubs and cutworms daily (many of which are destructive to your backyard plants). Moles can eat half their body weight a day!

image of Eastern Mole Distribution Map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common. Moles are not rodents. They and shrews are in a different order, the Soricomorpha (shrew-form or shrewlike mammals). For a long time, they and many other mammals were placed in the order Insectivora (insect-eating mammals), but biologists have done away with that designation and separated the group into a number of new orders.

Life cycle

Each mole has its own system of tunnels and lives a solitary life. They are active day and night, resting for 3 hours, then becoming active again for 5 hours. Moles breed in late winter or spring and have a gestation period of about 4–6 weeks. Single annual litters of 2–5 young are born in March, April, or May. Young moles are born naked and helpless, but growth and development is rapid. About 4 weeks after birth, they leave the nest and fend for themselves.

Human connections

Though moles are routinely disliked for disfiguring lawns and inadvertently damaging plant roots, their tunneling also aerates and mixes soil, permitting air and rainwater to penetrate deeper. They also eat many destructive insects, including cutworms and the larvae of those bazillions of Japanese beetles.

Ecosystem connections

Their digging and tunneling makes soils healthier, and their feeding on insects helps keep those populations in check. And although living underground offers some protection, moles still fall prey to snakes, hawks, owls, skunks, coyotes, and foxes.