Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Nature Bulletin No. 514-A   January 26, 1974
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
George W. Dunne, President
Roland F. Eisenbeis, Supt. of Conservation

Few people have ever seen a mole. That's because this strange animal lives its entire life underground and is rarely dragged out into the light of day. Sometimes we see those long, meandering ridges that it pushes up in lawns and gardens but most of us have no idea what the creature looks like.

The mole is built for digging. It has six-inch, torpedo-shaped body covered with dense, dark fur with a silky sheen which, like velvet, can be brushed either backward or forward. The head is cone-shaped with a long sensitive snout used for finding earthworms, grubs and other food. The short naked tail is used for guiding it backwards along the runways. In our common mole, the tiny eyeballs are completely covered with skin. There are no external ears, although they have a keen sense of hearing. The shoulders and forelegs are tremendously powerful with broad, shovel-like paws, each armed with five heavy claws.

The animal literally "swims" through the soil in its search for food. The hands are brought forward alongside the snout, then thrust outward and backward in a breast stroke, pushing the soil aside and pulling the animal forward. The soil above arches and cracks leaving a humped and broken trail. In autumn it bores deeper tunnels and pushes the excess earth into heaps above the surface called molehills. In such tunnels below the frost line it searches for insects during winter. A central nest chamber is commonly dug deep under a stump or boulder.

This industrious, hard-working animal has an enormous appetite. It has been reported to eat the equivalent of its own weight in food in a day, but one-third of its weight is more probably an average amount. The bulk of the diet consists of earthworms, white grubs, cutworms, wireworms, and other insects. Only about ten percent of plant material is eaten which may include grains of newly planted corn. Earthworms are eaten like spaghetti, beginning at the head end. Active insects are pinned by its body against the side of the burrow until they can be reached by the sharp, chopping teeth. Moles are often accused of damage to bulbs and garden crops -- damage which is really done by mice that invade their burrows.

The female mole ordinarily has one litter of four young each year in April or May. The young are born, naked and helpless, in a deep nest chamber where they remain for about a month. At the age of three months they are nearly as large as their parents. Three years is old age.

Moles lead solitary lives. The network of burrows of one animal may connect with those of others but they seldom associate with each other. In captivity they are extremely nervous and do not survive long. When two are confined together they usually fight to the death. This animal is safe from most enemies in its subterranean home. Cats and dogs are known to catch moles but refuse to eat them because of a distasteful secretion from the skin glands.

Whatever damage moles do to lawns, golf courses, gardens and cultivated fields is offset by the good that they do. They consume great numbers of destructive insects. The network of runways stirs the soil and allows rainfall to seep downward, thereby conserving moisture.

The star-nosed mole, a northern species, may have been present in Illinois at one time. It gets its name from the fringe of fleshy feelers around the tip of the nose. The hairy tail is nearly as long as the body. It prefers wet meadows and swamps. Occasionally it swims. It burrows, feeds on small underground animal life, and has habits much like our common mole.

Housewives and golfers make a mountain out of a molehill.

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