Monday, June 15, 2009

Moles Exposed

This crazy looking creature is the Eastern Mole (Scalopus aquatiens), It is the only mole native to Missouri. They occur statewide and are quite common. Growing up to 9 inches in length and covered in soft dense fur that can be dark brown or a shade of gray. The fur is tipped with silver. The hair will lay flat in any direction which allows the mole to move more easily through its underground home. They have large paddle like front paws that are ideal for digging. After all Digging is what a mole does best. The mole pictured here was dug out of our front yard by our dog, Lila. We heard her barking relentlessly. We finally tore ourselves away from the lawn chairs long enough to see what the commotion was about and discovered she had unearthed a mole. It was kind of humorous in a twisted sort of way. Lila was half afraid of this little thing but she was not about to let it escape. I think it might have bitten her nose at one point so she was very cautious. She didn't hurt it, but she sure liked making it squeak. I laughed at one point when I figured out what she was doing. It was her own personal live squeak toy. After a few minutes we took it away from her. This completely upset her. We've had a lot of damage to the yard from these little tunnellers. My husband disposed of the troublemaker. In some respects moles are kinda cute. Just like most things covered in fur they have a certain charm about them. Then you take a closer look and the absurdity of their appearance becomes apparent. Just look at that long thin nose and those impossibly sharp pointed teeth. Those large flat front paws and stub tail. They look like a mishap at the body shop.
Those large paws are no mistake though, moles can use those large paddle-like paws and sharp claws to "Swim" through the earth. They are capable of digging up to 150 feet of tunnel per night. Their diet is varied and consists of earthworms, beetle grubs, snail larvae, spiders, other small arthropods and various types of vegetation. In fact moles are digging their tunnels in part to search for food. Moles require a lot of food to survive, they have a high metabolism and could die if deprived without for as little as 12 hours. They eat half their body weight per day...that would be like us eating up to 50 hamburgers a day! Many of the tunnels that are in your yard are travel tunnels and may only be used a few times before they are abandoned. Deeper tunnels are dug as resting places during the cold of the winter or the heat of the summer. These deeper tunnels are also used as nurseries during the birthing season, which is from March thru May. Females give birth to as many as five tiny hairless babies. While helpless at birth they grow rapidly and are ready to leave the nest in 4 weeks. They may live up to 3 years, wrecking havoc where ever they go. Their digging habits are actually beneficial to the soil by providing aeration, their constant digging mixes deeper soil with surface soil creating a more nutrient rich mixture that help plants thrive. Exceptions to this will be when they invade yards, golf courses, gardens and parks. their unsightly tunnels and raised mounds of dirt cause significant damage to the frustration of home owners, and golf course managers everywhere. Some of the damage attributed to moles may actually be caused by voles, mice and shrews. These small mammals use mole tunnels to travel under ground and feed on plant roots, seeds and bulbs. Moles do eat some vegetation, approximately 15% of their diet is plant matter, they rarely eat bulbs or seeds. Although because of their digging nature they are prone to turn over grass roots as well as plant roots exposing them to the air and causing them to dry out which can damage or kill the plants or grasses. Homeowners begin waging war with these tiny little critters each spring as soon as signs appear that they have taken up residence in their yards. Many methods are used, trapping, poison baits, insecticides to control or kill their food source. Insecticides need to be used sparingly, they kill beneficial insects or micro organism residing in the soil. Birds can even be killed or made sick by consuming insects that have ingested poison. If they become a problem, trapping is the safest and best method to use. If you can tolerate their tunneling, and the mounds of dirt mysteriously appearing over night in your yard it is best to leave moles alone, they do aerate the soil, consume untold amounts of harmful insects which is hugely beneficial to the environment. Moles are considered blind, they can see shades of light and dark and that's about it. In the picture above of the closeup, shows their reaction to bright lights. The camera flash freaked him out and he went completely rigid and squeaked loudly. They have short stubby tails that work as a bumper of sorts. While they tunnel underground they sometimes feel the need to back up, their tail will act as a feeler to let them know where they are going. They are capable of turning around in their tunnel by doing a partial somersault or turning back over on itself.

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