How a mole is able to live underground?

An image of a mole emerging from the ground.

What kind of animal the mole is?

Few people have ever seen a mole, since it spends most of its life underground.

It is a small creature, about five and a half inches [14 cm] in length. The male weighs just under four ounces [113 g].

The mole has a dark gray, almost black, coat of fur and is commonly, even affectionately, called the little gentleman in the black velvet suit.

The hairs of the mole’s fur are without set; that is, they rise vertically from the skin.

So no matter which way the mole twists or turns in the earth, it can do so with ease.

Years ago mole catchers sold the skins for clothing, but “it takes an awful lot of moleskins to make a coat,” one mole catcher wryly remarked.

The mole’s body is highly specialized for its work of tunneling.

Its forelimbs are set well forward on its body with palms set outward. Five digits and an added crescent-shaped bone form two efficient shovels.

Its small hind legs, weak only in comparison with its strong forelimbs, help give the mole its propulsion.

Put a mole on top of soft soil, and it will disappear into the ground in five seconds!

It can travel along its dark, damp tunnels, or above ground, at speeds estimated at up to three miles [5 km] an hour.

How able to live and see underground?

The mole is not completely blind, as some people think, but its tiny eyes, hidden in the fur, probably give just enough sight for the creature to distinguish light from darkness.

As the mole burrows through the soil, long hairs are drawn across its eyes to protect them.

Much more important than eyesight, however, is the mole’s keen sense of smell and its sense of touch.

The European mole has thousands of small protrusions on the tip of its pink snout, each with its own hair that is sensitive to touch.

It also has long whiskers on various parts of its head and additional sensory hairs on the tip of its tail.

The mole picks up pressure waves that build up as it moves along its tunnel.

In this way it is able to locate obstructions, such as large stones or even predators, and to avoid them.

The mole has little in the way of external ears, but its hearing is acute. It has the ability to perceive vibrations through the ground and to act upon them.

The mole’s ears can be closed by means of sphincter muscles, which seem to serve to prevent particles of soil from entering the delicate cavities.

Food and Nesting

Gazing across the meadow, you could recognize the underground track, or path, frequented by the moles.

The path run just below the surface and is slightly raised.

Also evident are the new earth mounds, created when the moles thrust up newly excavated soil.

This turning over of the earth is a form of plowing, helping to drain the soil and maintain its fertility.

The mole’s main diet is earthworms, and this is the reason for the tunnels.

Earthworms, as they move in the soil, enter into the mole’s network of passages.

Then the mole, scuttling its way along the dark excavations, very soon finds its food.

But it also eats insects, including leatherjackets and wireworms.

The mole must eat every two hours, or it will die.

The small earth mounds of the mole are not to be confused with the mole’s nest.

This is much larger, being about a foot [30 cm] high and three feet [1 m] across.

It is usually found close to shelter—beneath a tree or alongside a hedgerow where nesting material such as grass, twigs, and leaves can readily be found.

In early springtime up to seven young ones are born to a litter.

Baby moles are blind and naked at birth and weigh less than one tenth of an ounce [3 g].

After five weeks they are old enough to fend for themselves and move away, perhaps as far as a mile [1.5 km].

After nine months they will be ready to mate.

The average life span of the mole is three years.

However, predators kill many of them long before then.

Admittedly, a mole can cause problems when excavating for its food under a finely manicured lawn or on a golf fairway, but our little gentleman in his black velvet suit remains an intriguing part of rural life.