Species Spotlight: Moles
Moles are the bane of tidy lawns owners and golf course keepers, but these unloved critters offer more than meets the eye.
Walk down the garden aisle of any hardware store and you’ll find a dozen products to destroy moles. Mole dirt hills pushed up onto lawns are often viewed as eyesores, plus moles aren’t exactly cute. Yet these unloved ground dwellers, often incorrectly labeled rodents, offer more than one might think.
Two common moles inhabit Oregon and Washington: the Townsend’s mole, found in pastures, meadows, and golf courses of the West and East Cascades, and the coast mole, which dwells from the West Cascades to the coast in backyards, forests, prairies, river floodplains, and even sand. Moles have velvet gray to black fur adapted to tunnel movement, minute eyes, and long, tapered pink snouts with powerful small bumps, or nerve centers, called Eimer’s organs. Coast moles range from five to eight inches long and weigh about two to three ounces; Townsend’s moles are slightly larger. Their incredibly well adapted, fleshy, wide front feet have five long white claws, and a modified wrist that extends like a sixth claw. Mole tunnels are typically two inches wide and three inches to three feet deep.
As fossorial mammals, moles dig and live underground. They are insectivores in the Talpidae family, not rodents, and eat mainly worms and other invertebrates. Males travel through newly dug tunnels once their testicles enlarge, and breeding takes place around January, with the birth of two to four pups occurring in March. Juveniles leave their mother’s nesting chamber in April or May and venture out for new territory, where they live solitary lives until breeding season.
There are no major threats to moles in Oregon or Washington, but they are an irritation to those with tidy lawns. “The presence of moles should be viewed as positive, as their digging benefits soil with natural aeration, composting, drainage, and moles serve as food for owls, snakes, and other wildlife,” said Clark College professor of biology Steven Clark. “I just golf the dirt piles in my own yard onto the grass and live without friction.”
Watch moles in action by viewing this The New York Times video.