Moles - How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the MoleMay 25, 2012 @ 7:45 am (Updated: 7:53 am - 5/25/12 )
This is the third in a Ciscoe Morris-inspired series of Banes of a Gardener's Existence - the slug, the aphid, and now the mole. Maybe Ciscoe wants me to better understand the plight of gardeners, but instead, each week I come away with a deeper appreciation and yes, fascination with these common pests.
Moles just may be the oddest-looking creatures on earth, befitting perhaps for mammals who spend almost their entire lives underground, in the dirt. They've got short squat furry bodies with relatively big front feet (or paws) with claws that face outwards for digging and tiny back feet which grip the sides of their tunnels. Their hips are small so they can turn around in very tight places. And their velvety fur is reversible which makes backing up easier too.
They live mostly on insects, earthworms, and grubs, which explains why they do what they're notorious for: tunnelling and mound-building. They're mostly searching for food.
Moles create an impressive maze of connecting underground tunnels that vary widely in depth. Shallow tunnels are 1 to 4 inches below the ground. Deep tunnels, called runways, usually range from 3 to 12 inches deep but can also plunge to 40 inches beneath the surface. These tunnels, whether surface or deep, may extend for several hundred feet.
Since moles are mostly solitary creatures - they only get together to mate and nest long enough to raise their young (about a month) - these elaborate tunnel systems are mostly used only by the digging mole.
Moles make these tunnels using a swimming motion to push the soil aside, rocking back and forth, alternating left and right paw strokes that compress the dirt against the side of the tunnel. It's the dirt from the deep tunnels that ends up getting pushed to the surface through vertical tunnels creating those maddening molehills.
Now I realize most everybody wants to exterminate these sources of aggravation but I think we need to re-evaluate our take on moles. Why not appreciate them for the intricacies of their lives? Those tunnels are engineering feats worthy of praise. Why not marvel at molehills as architectural eruptions, primitive pyramids if you will? Some landscape specialists even suggest relaxing our lawn standards, calling for a more naturalistic, wildlife-friendly setting. What does that mean? Letting the lawn grow high enough to hide the molehills. Now that's a policy both moles and I can get behind. Sorry, Ciscoe.
By TOM TANGNEY
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