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eastern mole

Scalopus aquaticus

What do they look like?

Head and body length in eastern moles ranges from 110 to 170mm. Tail length ranges from 18 to 36mm. Northern populations are larger than southern and southwestern populations and males are larger than females. Their robust body is covered with a thick velvety fur that varies from silver to black to copper. Their hair is hinged so that it can go forwards and backwards without problem, this is important because they have to be able to move in both directions in their tunnels. The short tail is round, almost hairless, and has scales. The feet have a little hair above, are naked below, and are quite large. The webbing between the toes of each foot aids in digging. These moles have no external eyes or ears. It is thought that their poorly developed eyes may still be able to detect light.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    32.0 to 140.0 g
    1.13 to 4.93 oz
  • Average mass
    74.6 g
    2.63 oz
  • Range length
    110.0 to 170.0 mm
    4.33 to 6.69 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.378 W
    AnAge

Where do they live?

Eastern moles are only native to the Nearctic region. They are found from southeastern Wyoming, South Dakota, and central Texas east to Michigan, Massachusetts, and New England, south to the tip of Florida, and north to Ontario. Small relict populations are found in southwestern Texas and in northwestern Mexico.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Eastern moles prefer fields, meadows, pastures, and open woodland. They are not found in stony or gravelly soils or in clay, instead they prefer moist, sandy, and loamy soils that are neither too wet nor too dry.

How long do they live?

One captive animal lived longer than 36 months. In the wild it is likely that eastern moles live for less than this.

How do they behave?

A study in Kentucky found that eastern moles are mostly active from 8:00 in the morning to 4:00 in the afternoon and from 11:00 at night to 4:00 in the morning. These moles are mostly solitary, though their tunnel systems may overlap and they may share some space. Males have larger home ranges and more complex and extensive tunnel systems than females. Tunnel systems are found in two forms. One type consists of deep, fairly permanent passageways that are used as burrows and as routes to feeding sites. The other consists of surface runways used for finding food. Winter tunnels tend to be deeper than summer tunnels. Nest chambers of dry vegetation are usually below the surface underneath a boulder or the roots of a plant. Eastern moles can dig up to 4.5 meters in one hour with their powerful forefeet. One individual dug 31 meters of shallow tunnels in one day. Special adaptations of their bodies enable these moles to burrow with such speed. Their forefeet are large and as wide as they are long. The bones of their shoulder girdles and upper forelimbs provide broad suraces for muscle attachment, giving them a lot of power in their forelegs. When they burrow, these moles "dive" into the earth; they first thrust their forefeet into the soil and then follow with the head and body as they rotate their forelimbs and pull the loosened dirt backwards. Eastern moles have high energy requirements and need large amounts of food daily, this means they have to look over large areas for food and can travel for reasonably long distances. Eastern moles can swim well and are mainly limited in where they can travel by soil types. They cannot travel through rocky and heavy clay soils, or soils that are too dry or too wet.

How do they communicate with each other?

Although eastern moles have no vision, they may be able to detect the presence or absence of light. Their ears are also covered by a layer of skin but they may be able to detect sounds and vibrations. Eastern moles probably find their way around and detect prey by their acute senses of smell and touch.

What do they eat?

Eastern moles eat primarily earthworms. They also eat insects and their larvae, some vegetation, and, in captivity, ground beef, dog food, mice, and small birds. Each day this mole eats 25% to 100% of its own weight in food, that's like you eating from 1 to 5 twenty pound hamburgers!

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats non-insect arthropods

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Eastern moles spend 99% of their time in their underground tunnels, there are few predators that can find and catch them there.

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Eastern moles are important predators of insect larvae and other invertebrates, they can profoundly impact the communities of their prey. They also act to aerate and turn soil where they live through their extensive tunneling activities.

Do they cause problems?

Eastern moles damage pastures and gardens by digging and injuring bulbs and root masses.

How do they interact with us?

As insectivores, these animals eat the larvae of many insect pests. They also help to aerate and turn over the soil.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Eastern moles are not endangered but have suffered persecution by gardeners and farmers who are displeased by the mounds of earth left behind and by the root damage caused by this animal.

Contributors

Antonia Gorog (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

altricial

young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

crepuscular

active at dawn and dusk

endothermic

animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

forest

forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

nocturnal

active during the night

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

soil aeration

digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

viviparous

reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.

References

Harvey, M.J. (1976). Home Range, Movements and Diel Activity of the Eastern Mole, Scalopus aquaticus, The American Midland Naturalist, Vol. 95, No. 2.

Macdonald, David. (1984). The Encyclopedia of Mammals, Facts on File Publications, New York.

Nowak, Ronald M. and Paradiso, John L. (1983). Walker's Mammals of the World , The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

Yates, Terry L. and Schmidly, David J. (1972). Mammalian Species, No. 105, The American Society of Mammalogists.

"Animal Life Histories Database" (On-line).

 
University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Gorog, A. 1999. "Scalopus aquaticus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 19, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Scalopus_aquaticus/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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