Mole (Talpa europaea)
|Also known as:||European mole|
|Size||Tail length: 25-40 mm (2)|
Head & body length: 113-159 mm (2)
|Weight||72-128 g (2)|
The mole is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1). It is common in the UK and not protected (3).
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).
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).
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).
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).
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).
There is no conservation action targeted at the mole.
For further information on the mole:
BBC Wildlife Finder:
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
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- 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.
IUCN Red List (May, 2012)
The Mammal Society. Mammal Factsheets (July 2002):
Macdonald, D.W., and Tattershall, F.T. (2001) Britain's mammals- the challenge for conservation. The Wildlife Conservation research unit, Oxford University
- Macdonald, D.W. (2001) The New Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.