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Interesting Facts About Moles – Feeding, Digging Behavior, Habitat, and Breeding Season
The family Talpidae includes the moles, mice and desmans, which are restricted to northern North America and Eurasia. These mainly insectivorous borers (29 species in 12 genera) are highly secretive and, because of their lifestyle, generally poorly studied. The species that has, to date, received the most attention from naturalists and biologists is the European mole (Talpa europaea)whose mode of life and behavior is probably quite similar to many of the other species of this family.
Moles are highly specialized for an underground, fossilized lifestyle. Their broad spade-like forelimbs, developed as powerful digging instruments, are joined by muscular shoulders and a deep chest. The skin on the chest is thicker than elsewhere on the body, as this area supports most of the mole’s weight when burrowing or sleeping. Behind the massive shoulders the body is almost cylindrical, tapering slightly to narrow hips with short stout hindquarters (which are not specially adapted for digging) and a short, club-shaped tail, which is usually carried upright.
In most species, both pairs of limbs have an extra bone that increases the surface area of the feet, for extra support on the hind limbs and for moving the ground with the forelimbs. The elongated head tapers to a hairless, fleshy pink muzzle that is extremely sensitive. In the North American star nose (Condylura cristata)this organ bears 22 tentacles each bearing thousands of sensory organs.
How do moles dig burrows?
The function of a mole’s burrow is often misunderstood. Moles do not dig constantly or specifically for food. Instead, the tunnel system, which is the resident animal’s permanent home, acts as a food trap, constantly collecting invertebrate prey such as earthworms and insect larvae. As they move through the soil column, the invertebrates fall into the animal’s burrow and often do not escape before being spotted by the alert, resident mole that patrols.
Once prey is spotted, it is quickly grabbed and, in the case of an earthworm, decapitated. The worm is then pulled forward through the claws on the front legs, thus compressing any grit and sand from the worm’s body that would otherwise cause severe tooth wear – one of the common causes of death in moles.
If a mole detects a sudden abundance of prey, it will try to capture as many animals as possible, storing them in a central cache, which will usually be well protected. This crypt, often located near the mole’s single nest, is packed into the ground so that the earthworms remain alive but generally inactive for several months. So, if an animal experiences a period of food shortage, it can easily attack this worm instead of using the essentials. physical reserves to search for rare prey. In selecting such prey for the store, moles appear to be particularly selective, generally selecting only the largest prey available.
How do moles build tunnels?
Tunnel construction and maintenance take up much of a mole’s active time. A mole burrows actively throughout the year, although once it has established its burrow system, there may be little evidence above ground of the mole’s presence. Moles build a complex system of burrows, which are usually multi-layered. When a mole starts excavating a tunnel system. It usually makes an initial relatively straight exploratory tunnel for up to 20 meters (22 yards) before adding any lateral branches. This is probably an attempt to locate neighboring animals, while at the same time forming a food trap for future use. The tunnels are later lengthened and many more are formed below these preliminary burrows. This staggered tunnel system can result in one animal’s burrows above those of its neighbors without joining together. In an established population, however, many tunnels between neighboring animals are connected.
Mole’s Sense of Navigation
Moles have a keen sense of direction and often build their tunnels in exactly the same place every year.
In permanent pastures, existing tunnels can be used by several generations of moles. Some animals may be driven out of their own tunnels by the invasion of a stronger animal, and in such cases the loser will have to leave and create a new tunnel system.
These master engineers are very familiar with every part of their territory and are suspicious of any changes in a tunnel, making it difficult to catch them. If, for example, the normal route to the nest or feeding area is blocked, a mole will dig either around or under the obstruction, reconnecting the original tunnel with minimal digging.
Our knowledge of the sensory world of moles is very limited. It is one of the exclusively fossilized species, the the eyes are small and is hidden by dense fur or, as in the blind mole Talpa caeca, covered with skin Muscles, however, forage not only in underground tunnels but also above ground among the white litter, although they may have more keen sense of vision than other species are still probably only able to perceive shadows rather than relying heavily on vision for prey detection or orientation purposes.
The apparent absence of ears in almost all species is due to the lack of external ear flaps and the covering of thick fur over the ear opening. However, it has been suggested that ultrasound may be an important means of communication between fossils and nocturnal species. But of all the senses olfaction appears to be the most important—a fact supported by the elaborate nasal region of many species, along with the array of sensory organs stored in that region.
The short breeding season is a frantic time for moles, as females are only receptive for 24 to 48 hours. During this time, males usually abandon their usual behavior and activity, spending large amounts of time and energy to locate potential mates. Mating takes place within the female’s burrow system and this is the only period of non-aggression between the sexes.
Young, averaging three to a litter, are born in the nest four weeks later. Weighing less than 4 grams (ounces), the pink, naked infants cannot control their body temperature and rely on their mother for warmth. The young are fed entirely on milk for the first month, during which they gain weight rapidly. The young remain in the brood until they are about five weeks old, when they begin to abuse short exploratory forays in the immediate vicinity of the nest chamber. Soon after they will accompany their mother on more outer explorations of the burrow system and may disperse from there on their own, those that do not leave will soon be evicted by the mother.
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