Description: Cylindrical body; thick, dark grey or black fur on back, underside yellow-brown; very small eyes hidden in fur; large, spade-like forelimbs, shorter hindlimbs; powerful claws; long pink snout. Moles rarely come above ground, except when excavating burrows, if displaced by flooding or when young disperse.
Size: Between a mouse and a rat in size; head-body length 12-17 cm; tail short, about 2-4 cm; sexual dimorphism not evident.
Weight: Average 70-130 g
Lifespan: 3-4 years, but 2/3 do not survive beyond their first year.
Breeding: Breeding season February-June, with births April-June. Females produce a single litter of 3-4 pups per year. Pups are weened at 4 to 5 weeks old, disperse at about 5 weeks and are able to breed the following season. Young disperse above ground in search of new territories at night in July-August.
Habitat: Well-drained soil in a variety of habitats includinggardens,grassland, arable fields, woodland and woodland edges. Moles live in a complex burrow system containing an underground nest of grass and leaves.
Diet: Soil invertebrates are caught in tunnels, which act as traps. Insects and their larvae, centipedes, millipedes, slugs and carrion are consumed. Earthworms are their preferred food.
General Ecology: Active throughout the year, alternating periods of activity and rest over a 24-hour period; most abundant in spring and autumn. Solitary and highly territorial, individual home ranges and territories vary in size dependent upon habitat and food resources, from 300 square metres where invertebrates are plentiful to approximately 5,000 square metres (Atkinson, 2013) where food is scarce.
Moles play a valuable ecological role. Their tunnelling breaks up and aerates soil, thereby increasing plant diversity through improved soil health.
Distribution and main sites: widespread across the county but more common in grassland than intensely arable or rocky areas. Quite a lot of records follow main roads as their characteristic molehills are easy to spot from a vehicle.
Local Survey history: mainly casual records of molehills, sometimes recorded when doing surveys for other species.
Conservation Status: Moles are common and widespread throughout the United Kingdom; population approximately 31,000,000. They are absent from Ireland. Species numbers may have declined since 2000 (Wembridge, 2012).
Threats: Natural predators are stoats and tawny owls. Threats include human persecution and the New Zealand flatworm (predominantly in Scotland and the north of England), a threat to the earthworm.
Action: not endangered.
Main recording methods: Molehills, owl pellets
Note: a license is required to collect owl pellets from nest sites.
Did you know? Mole fur can lie in either direction to allow for backward and forward movement through tunnels.
They have more blood and twice as much haemoglobin than other mammals of similar size, an adaptation to the low oxygen levels in tunnels.
Shropshire Lore: If a mole throws up earth during a frost, the frost will disappear in two days (not limited to Shropshire).
References quoted/paraphrased: Atkinson (2013) Moles; Couzens et al. (2017) Britain’s Mammals: A field guide to the mammals of Britain and Ireland; Muir & Morris (2013) How to find and identify mammals; Strachan (2002) Mammal Detective; The Wildlife Trusts; The Woodland Trust; Wembridge (2012) Urban Mammals: a concise guide.
Other Field Signs
Runs: These are surface tunnels made from moles exploring just below ground in well-cultivated soil. They appear as ridges of earth approximately 4-5 cm high, and may look like long trenches when the roofs collapse. Tunnels may be made in part by males extending their tunnels into female territories to search for mates in spring.
Fortresses: This on or above-ground structure resembles a very large molehill.Most often found in areas that are prone to flooding, the average fortress is 30 cm tall and 90 cm wide and may contain nests and food caches.
Tracks: These are rarely found. Hind print has 5 digits and measures 1.5 cm long x 1 cm wide; fore print a series of dots made from the claws as moles walk on the front edges of their front feet.
Text – Jen Loyd-Pain.
Photographs – Malcolm Monie, Jen Loyd-Pain, Couzens et. al