Mole (Talpa europaea)

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Eurpean mole with mouth open
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Mole fact file

Mole description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassMammalia
OrderEulipotyphla
FamilyTalpidae
GenusTalpa (1)

The European mole (Talpa europaea) has an elongated, cylindrical body, covered in black, velvety fur (4). Although the eyes are complete, they are tiny, and often hidden by fur (4). There are no external ears and the nose is naked, apart from sensitive whiskers (4). The large, spade-like forepaws are well adapted for digging, with five robust claws and a permanently out-turned position (4). The sexes are very similar in appearance, but males are usually slightly larger (2).

Also known as
European mole.
French
Taupe D'Europe.
Spanish
Topo Europeo.
Size
Tail length: 25-40 mm (2)
Head & body length: 113-159 mm (2)
Weight
72-128 g (2)
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Mole biology

Moles spend most of their lives underground in a system of permanent tunnels (2), the presence of which can be detected from above by molehills, by-products of the excavation process (2). They feed on soil invertebrates that fall into the tunnels (4). A favourite component of the diet is earthworms, which are often stored for later consumption after they have been immobilised by a bite to the head (4).

This species of mole is typically solitary, and both sexes defend their territories vigorously (4). Males extend their tunnel systems during the short breeding season as they search for females (4); a single litter per year is the norm, averaging between two to seven naked, blind young. The young are suckled for about a month and leave the nest at around 33 days of age (2), they then disperse above-ground; this period of the mole's life is the most fraught with danger, as they are extremely vulnerable to predators including owls, buzzards, stoats, dogs and cats (2). Female moles are the only mammals known to posses reproductive organs called 'ovotestes', which contain a normal functioning ovary as well as a testicular area that produces a large amount of testosterone. This intriguing feature may explain why female moles are as aggressive as males when defending their territories; it may also account for the external similarities between males and females (4).

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Mole range

Widespread and common throughout Britain the mole is absent from Ireland and most islands, with the exception of Jersey, the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, Mull, Alderney and Skye (3). It is widespread in Europe except for the more southern countries (3).

You can view distribution information for this species at the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
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Mole habitat

Found in many habitats with soil deep enough to allow tunnelling (2), including arable fields, deciduous woodland, and permanent pasture (3). The mole does not commonly occur in coniferous forests, sand dunes, or moorland, possibly because invertebrate prey is scarce in these habitats (2).

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Mole status

The mole is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is common in the UK and not protected (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Mole threats

Moles are not protected by law in the UK, and they are considered to be pests by many farmers and horticulturalists (2), although there are doubts as to whether this perception is correct (3). Historically, they have been trapped on a huge scale, and the pelts were used to make garments (4). Today moles are controlled by strychnine poisoning. This poison, available only by license and banned under the Animal (Cruel Poisons) Regulations (1963) except for use against moles (3), causes a slow painful death; it is also dangerous to other wildlife and humans (2).

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Mole conservation

There is no conservation action targeted at the mole.

There may be further information about this species available via the National Biodiversity Network Gateway.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For further information on the mole:

For more on the current status of Britain's mammal:

  • Macdonald, D.W., and Tattershall, F.T. (2001). Britain's mammals- the challenge for conservation. The Wildlife Conservation research unit, Oxford University. Available from
    http://www.wildcru.org
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Authentication

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

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Glossary

Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones), echinoderms, and others.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2012)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. The Mammal Society. Mammal Factsheets (July 2002):
    http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mammal/mole.shtml
  3. Macdonald, D.W., and Tattershall, F.T. (2001) Britain's mammals- the challenge for conservation. The Wildlife Conservation research unit, Oxford University
    http://www.wildcru.org
  4. Macdonald, D.W. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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Image credit

Eurpean mole with mouth open  
Eurpean mole with mouth open

© Jean-Louis Le Moigne / Biosphoto

Biosphoto
16 rue Velouterie
Avignon
84000
France
Tel: +33 (490) 162 042
Fax: +33 (663) 208 434
http://www.biosphoto.com/

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