Eastern moles (Scalopus aquaticus) are found throughout the central and eastern United States. The western edge of this range includes east Texas, northward to Nebraska; their northern limits include Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Massachusetts. Eastern moles are most common along the east coast, as far north as Massachusetts and continuing southwards to south Florida. They are absent in western Pennsylvania and western West Virginia. (Hamilton, 1943)
Eastern moles are fossorial, digging burrows in areas such as forests, lawns, pastures, and gardens. Eastern moles build branching tunnels, which they use to travel and forage for food. They occupy multiple habitat types, provided they have loamy or slightly damp soil in which to burrow. Despite their scientific name, Scalopus aquaticus, they typically avoid saturated soil near bodies of water. (Biggs, et al., 1985; Kurta, 1995)
Eastern moles vary in total body length from 144 to 187 mm and have hairless tails that are 18 to 33 mm long. Their hindfeet are 22 to 27 mm long. Adult eastern moles typically weigh 65 to 140 g. They have glossy silver, brown, or black fur, occasionally with dispersed white patches. Their front paws are substantially larger than their back paws and are adapted for digging. They are broad, with large claws, webbed fingers, and outward-facing palms. Eastern moles have pointed noises and lack external ears. They have poor eyesight, as their eyes are covered by a layer of skin. Even so, their eyes likely play an important role in detecting light and dark. The dental formula for eastern moles is: I 3/2, C 1/0, P 3/3, M 3/3.
Males tend to be larger than females, but there is no difference in color. Juvenile moles leave their nests around 4 weeks of age, at which point they are approximately the same size as adult eastern moles. (Biggs, et al., 1985; Hartman and Whitaker Jr, 2000; Kurta, 1995; Yates and Schmidly, 1978)
Eastern moles are sexually dimorphic, with males being larger on average than females. Females often choose to mate with larger males, and male competition plays a role in mate selection. Eastern moles interact very little with other moles, except during breeding season. Eastern moles emit chemicals from scent glands on their bellies to signal that they are reproductive. Males mate with many females, which suggests that they have a polygynous mating system. (Schwartz and Schwartz, 2002)
Among eastern moles, males are typically larger than females. Females often choose to mate with larger males, and males compete with each other for mating opportunities. Eastern moles interact very little with other moles, except during their breeding season. Eastern moles emit chemicals from scent glands on their bellies to signal that they are reproductive. Males mate with many females in one breeding season. (Schwartz and Schwartz, 2002)
Eastern moles remain solitary throughout the year except during breeding season, which begins in late March or early April. After a gestation period of 40 to 45 days, their young are born in May. Female eastern moles are viviparous. One litter of 3 to 5 young are produced annually and weigh about 5 g each at birth. Young eastern moles develop rapidly and leave their nest at around 4 weeks old. Both females and males reach sexual maturity at 1 year old. (Kurta, 1995)
Female eastern moles care for and nurse their young until they are about 4 weeks old, at which point they are able to forage for food. In a few instances, female eastern moles have been observed to cannibalize their young, though the reason for this is unknown. Male eastern moles exhibit no further parental investment beyond the act of mating. (Gottschang and Hartman, 1983; Kurta, 1995)
Female eastern moles typically live longer than males. In South Carolina, the oldest males found in the wild were 5.2 years old and the oldest female was 6.2 years old. The longest-lived captive eastern mole was 2 years old.
Eastern moles have a 50% expected mortality rate within their first 6 months of life. Researchers think that juveniles are most at risk when moving away from their maternal home range to establish their own territories. The threat of predation on juveniles is higher in unfamiliar habitats. (Biggs, et al., 1985; Hartman, 2009)
Eastern moles are active throughout the day, but are primarily diurnal and can spend 21 to 23 hours foraging for food.
Eastern moles are burrowers. They dig two main types of tunnels: shallow surface runs and deep runs. Shallow surface runs are temporary, and usually 2 to 3 cm beneath the surface. Deep runs are permanent and 10 to 40 cm deep. Eastern moles use shallow runs when searching for food. Females build their nests and care for their young in deep runs. When the ground is dry and hard during the summer or frozen during the winter, eastern moles dig fewer shallow runs and new tunnels and use more tunnels that already exist, which are primarily deep runs.
Eastern moles are nearly blind and do not have external ears. They have exceptional olfactory and tactile senses using their snouts. Their nostrils are adapted to discern the direction of odors. Once they have obtained their food, they hit their prey against the walls of their burrows, or they sometimes pile large amounts of dirt on their prey. (Catania, 2013; Harvey, 1976; Schwartz and Schwartz, 2002)
Male eastern moles typically have a larger home range than female eastern moles. Males use an average of 1.09 ha, and females use an average of 0.28 ha. There are no known studies addressing why male eastern moles have larger home ranges than females. (Harvey, 1976; Nevo, 1979)
Eastern moles have reduced eyes covered by a thin layer of skin, rendering them nearly blind. They also have poor hearing, relying on other senses, such as touch and smell to explore their surroundings. Eastern moles have a touch-sensitive patch on the end of their noses, called glabrous tissue. They use this patch to sense their surroundings ahead of them and locate prey.
Various sensory receptors give moles an extraordinary sense of smell. They have highly sensitive noses that can sense the direction of specific odors.
Eastern moles make noises such as high-pitched squeals when frightened and short snorts when sensing their surroundings. They emit an odor from scent glands on their bellies, which indicates sexual receptivity to individuals of the opposite sex. (Biggs, et al., 1985; Catania, 1988; Catania, 2013; Quilliam, 1966; Schwartz and Schwartz, 2002)
Eastern moles spend 21 to 23 hours per day foraging. They primarily eat ants (family Formicidae), earthworms (family Lumbricidae), centipedes (class Chilopoda), and scarabaeid beetle larvae (family Scarabaeidae), as well as other insects found in the soil. Although they are mainly insectivorous, eastern moles also eat other food items, including potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), oats (Avena sativa), corn (Zea mays), and tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum). An analysis of stomach contents from eastern moles in South Carolina revealed that 70.6% of stomachs contained scarabaeid beetle larvae, 63.1% contained ants, 47.9% contained centipedes. A similar study in Indiana found 32.2%, 48.9%, and 21.1% for the same respective groups of insects contained in eastern mole stomachs.
Male eastern moles are usually larger than females and typically eat more than females. However, during April, May, and June, female eastern moles require more calories to gestate their young and lactate. (Hartman and Whitaker Jr, 2000; Kurta, 1995; Yates and Schmidly, 1978)
Eastern moles are fossorial and rarely come out of their burrows, which helps them avoid many terrestrial and aerial predators. Most predators cannot fit into eastern mole tunnels, with the exception of mustelids (family Mustelidae) and snakes (order Squamata). Occasionally, when eastern moles do exit their burrows, they may be spotted and eaten by red foxes (Vulpes vulpes), gray foxes (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), coyotes (Canis latrans), domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), domestic cats (Felis domesticus), raccoons (Procyon lotor), red-tailed hawks (Buteo jamaicensis), red-shouldered hawks (Buteo lineatus), broad-winged hawks (Buteo platypterus), eastern screech-owls (Megascops asio), barred owls (Strix varia), and barn owls (Tyto alba). When they are threatened by predators, eastern moles sometimes release a chemical with a distasteful odor. Humans (Homo sapiens) also threaten eastern moles using lethal traps, because moles in agricultural and suburban areas create molehills that can damage crops or disturb lawns. ("COESWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Eastern Mole", 2010; Kurta, 1995; Scheffer, 1917)
Eastern moles play an important role in aerating soil. By burrowing tunnels, they expose the soil to more oxygen and allow water to percolate into the soil. Eastern moles also likely play a role in controlling populations of the invertebrates they eat.
Eastern moles serve as hosts for multiple ectoparasites, including several species of fleas (Ctenophalmus pseudagyrtes, Stenoponia americana, and Opisocrostis bruneri), ticks such as American dog ticks (Dermacentor variabilis), mite species (Androlaelaps fahrenholzi, Atricholelaps glasgo, and Liponyssus bacoti), spiney-headed worm species (Moniliformis clark), and roundworm species (Physaloptera limbata). ("COESWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Eastern Mole", 2010; Hanawalt, 1922; Olive, 1950; Whitaker Jr and Schmeltz, 1973)
Eastern moles dig burrows that aerate the soil and allow water to better percolate into the soil.
Eastern moles also consume larval stages of beetles, some of which are agricultural crop pests. ("COESWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Eastern Mole", 2010)
Eastern moles can potentially damage gardens and crops due to the extensive tunnel systems they dig. Their activity also results in molehills, which some homeowners find unappealing. (Hanawalt, 1922)
Eastern moles are considered a species of “least concern” on the IUCN Red List. However, they are listed as a species of “Special Concern” on the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in Canada. They are not listed on any international or national conservation lists. Eastern mole populations are declining in southern Texas and Mexico, and are considered extremely rare, perhaps even extirpated, in these areas. Eastern mole populations are threatened by agricultural and residential development, which decreases the amount of suitable habitat available to eastern moles. Also, in some situations, humans consider eastern moles a pest species and use lethal trapping techniques to control their populations. There are no conservation efforts currently in place for eastern moles. ("COESWIC Assessment and Status Report on the Eastern Mole", 2010; Matson, et al., 2008)
Shaparis Townsend (author), Radford University, Emily Clark (editor), Radford University, Cari Mcgregor (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, April Tingle (editor), Radford University, Jacob Vaught (editor), Radford University, Galen Burrell (editor), Special Projects.
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.
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.
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. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
an animal that mainly eats meat
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
parental care is carried out by females
union of egg and spermatozoan
forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.
Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
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).
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species
having more than one female as a mate at one time
breeding is confined to a particular season
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
uses touch to communicate
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).
Living on the ground.
reproduction in which fertilization and development take place within the female body and the developing embryo derives nourishment from the female.
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