Marley's golden mole (Amblysomus marleyi)

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderAfrosoricida
FamilyChrysochloridae
GenusAmblysomus (1)
Weight30 - 34 g (2)

Marley's mole is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Marley's golden mole (Amblysomus marleyi) belongs to a group of blind, subterranean mammals that originated in Africa at least 40 million years ago (3). The golden moles are so named not because they are golden coloured, but because the fur typically has an iridescent sheen of coppery gold, green, purple or bronze (2) (4). Like other burrowing insectivores, Marley’s golden mole has a compact, streamlined body with thick, tough skin and sleek, moisture repellent fur. The limbs are short, but the powerful forelimbs are equipped with curved, pick-like claws for cutting through soil, while the hindfeet are webbed, with short claws, for pushing loose earth backwards. The muzzle is wedge-shaped and terminates in a leathery pad that protects the nose, and prevents soil from entering the nostrils. Dense fur conceals the small ears, and the vestigial eyes are covered in hairy skin. Although tail vertebrae are present under the skin, the tail is not visible externally (2) (3) (4) (5). The dorsal fur of Marley’s golden mole is dark reddish brown, while the underparts vary from orange through to dull brown (2) (6).

Marley’s golden mole was traditionally recognised as a subspecies of the much more widespread Hottentot golden mole (Amblysomus hottentotus), but was raised to full species rank on account of its more delicate size and smaller, narrower skull (2) (6).

Marley’s golden mole is known from only two isolated localities on the eastern slopes of the Lebombo Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa (1) (2). However, there is some evidence that it may be more widespread than currently recognised, with putative remains of this species found in owl pellets 250 kilometres to the southwest of its known range (1).

Marley's golden mole favours moist grasslands and indigenous forests of the Lebombo Mountains, but also occurs in gardens (1) (2).

Like many other golden mole species, Marley’s golden mole constructs two types of burrow systems: subsurface tunnels that are used for foraging and deeper tunnels that are used for resting and raising young (2) (4). To tunnel through the soil, it combines powerful upthrusts of its wedge-shaped muzzle with downthrusts of the foreclaws, often creating ridges of soil that are visible at the surface (3) (4). Adults are solitary and primarily nocturnal, and like other golden moles are probably territorial (2) (4). The specific diet of Marley’s golden mole is unknown, but all golden moles are opportunistic insectivores, with earthworms and insect larvae being the predominant prey (2) (3) (4).

One of the primary reasons for the evolutionary success of the golden moles is a low metabolic rate and the ability to enter a state of torpor, either daily or in response to cold temperatures. This greatly reduces energy requirements, and enables golden moles to survive in areas where temperatures are extreme and food is scarce (3) (4).

Habitat degradation, brought about chiefly by overgrazing, firewood collection, and urbanization, is likely to be the single greatest threat to Marley’s golden mole. In some areas, pesticide contamination and predation by domestic pets may be additional concerns (1).

There are no specific conservation measures in place for Marley’s golden mole, but it is known to occur in the protected Pongola Nature Reserve. In order to implement appropriate conservation measures, further research is needed to clarify the uncertainty surrounding the distribution of this elusive species, and to assess the relative importance of the various threats it faces (1).

For more information on Marley’s golden mole and other afrotherians:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. Skinner, J.D. and Chimimba, C.T. (2005) The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Third Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Macdonald, D.W. (2006) The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. IUCN-SSC Afrotheria Specialist Group (January, 2010)
    http://www.afrotheria.net/golden_moles/index.html
  5. Nowak, R.M. (1991) Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.
  6. Apps, P. (2000) Smither's Mammals of Southern Africa: A Field Guide. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.