About Moles: Biology, Diet, Life Cycle
There are about 20 species of moles but they mostly have the same physical appearance with little variations, especially in their colours. Some of the popular species are star nosed mole, hairy tailed mole, eastern mole, European mole, broad-footed mole, American shrew mole, coast mole, Townsend mole etc. They feed their young ones with milk and are warm blooded, hence they are mammals.
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Moles are mammals with a compact but narrow body frame that is covered with short thick furs in a wide range of
colors from brownish grey to black. Usually, they are as small as mice and the male mole (boars) is bigger than its female counterpart (sow). An average male measures 18 cm in length while the female measures an average of 16 cm.
Moles have tiny eyes which are almost entirely covered with fur and as a result, their vision is poor; they also have no external ears. They however possess a sharp sense of smell, courtesy of a long snout on which their noses are situated. The long snout also helps moles to locate their foods easily. The large, curved claws on the toes of their front feet are adapted for burrowing and they can dig underground tunnels as long as 18 cm in just one hour.
Moles are solitary creatures from the day they leave their mothers, only coming together at mating periods. Each mole has a defined territory and their occasional meetings are usually marked with fierce rivalry. They are busy mammals as they spend most of their time finding and storing foods; an activity that gets intensified during the raining periods. Moles do not hibernate, but are active all through the year.
Moles are mostly insectivorous in nature. They typically feed on ants, worms, centipedes, slugs, insects and other organisms found in the soil like snails. The only species that eats small fishes and crustaceans is the star nosed mole, which lives inside ponds and near streams. Large moles are also known for eating mice sometimes.
Moles use their snout - a protruded portion of the head region that contains nose and mouth, to find food and retrieve it from under the ground. They use a poison found in their saliva to paralyze the insect before storing it in their underground homes. Moles have a great appetite and eat at regular intervals all through the day. They are believed to eat between 70 to 100% of their body weight each day and eat a total of over 50 pounds of worms each year.
The mating season of moles is from February to April each year. After a gestation period of between 4 to 6 weeks, the sow gives birth to 2 to 7 pups. Thus, with a lifespan of 4 to 6 years, a sow can give birth to an average of 25 pups during her lifetime. The little pup lives with its mother for about 4 to 5 weeks after birth, during which time it is fed with milk, and afterwards moves out to start fending for itself. Moles reach maturity and start breeding by 10 months.
Although the average lifespan of a mole is 5 years, it can be affected by environmental conditions and predation. The natural predators of moles are dogs, cats, owl, hawks, coyotes, badgers, etc. They also get killed on few occasions by spades when a gardener is working on the lawns or farmyards over their tunnels.
Moles can be found almost everywhere depending on their species as different species are adapted to different habitats. They are predominantly found in parts of Africa, Europe, North America and Asia. As long as a place is good enough to be burrowed, moles can survive there. Moles can be found in woodlands, wet meadows, pasture, marshes, temperate forest, hayfields, dry places and even near ponds and streams. They are very good at making burrows and underground tunnels in any of these habitats and live most of their solitary lives there.
The only places that moles cannot live in are areas characterized by hard, semiarid soil. Digging and tunnelling in these places would be a difficult feat.
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