Talpa europaeaEuropean mole

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Geographic Range

Talpa europaea is found throughout temperate Europe, from Great Britain in the west to the Ob and Irtysh rivers in the east in Russia. They do not occur in southernmost parts of Europe, including Greece, Portugal, and Italy. ("ARKive: Images of Life on Earth- Mole (Talpa europaea)", 2006)

Habitat

European moles are found in habitats with soils deep enough to allow tunneling. These include arable fields, deciduous woodland, and permanent pasture. Unless accidentally exposed to light, European moles spend their entire life underground, a highly variable habitat. Talpa europaea does not do well in sandy soils or newly cultivated land, as these environments are not suitable for burrowing. When T. europaea does burrow in these types of land, the tunnels are usually short-lived surface tunnels. Talpa europaea forms extensive networks of permanent, underground tunnels in more stable soils. This complex network of burrows is found at varying depths in the soil, and can be hundreds of meters long. The deepest tunnels are used most in times of drought and low temperature. Permanent tunnels are used repeatedly for feeding over long periods of time, sometimes for several generations of moles. Within the tunnels, T. europaea constructs one or more spherical nests, each lined with a ball of dry plant matter. These are used for sleeping and raising young. ("ARKive: Images of Life on Earth- Mole (Talpa europaea)", 2006; "The Mammal Society", 2006; Jenkins, 2002)

Physical Description

European moles weigh between 72 and 128 g. They are lean creatures and rarely have more than 3 grams of fat stored in the body. Body lengths range from 113 to 159 mm with tail lengths between 25 and 40 mm. European moles have long, cylindrical bodies. Their fur is velvety and black in color. They have fully developed eyes that are small and often hidden by fur and no external ears. The nose is bare with the exception of sensory whiskers. They have well-adapted front limbs for digging. The front feet have 5 strong claws and are permanently turned outward. There is only slight sexual dimorphism, with males usually slightly larger. ("ARKive: Images of Life on Earth- Mole (Talpa europaea)", 2006; Gorman and Stone, 1990)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    72 to 128 g
    2.54 to 4.51 oz
  • Range length
    113 to 159 mm
    4.45 to 6.26 in

Reproduction

Mating occurs during a short breeding season in the spring (March to May). Talpa europaea is typically a solitary and territorial species; however, during the mating season males extend their burrows as they search for females. For most of the year, males and females look very much alike. During the breeding season, females become easily recognizable. Around mid-February, two small pits appear just behind the clitoris. These expand and come together, forming a transverse slit leading to the vagina, which is inside the abdomen. Internal sex organs in both males and females increase greatly in size during the breeding season.

The behavior of female moles changes little during the breeding season. They remain in the areas inhabited during the winter. Males, who tend to remain in the same area during the winter months, may move considerable distances during the breeding months (up to a half of a mile) in search of mates. They travel through existing tunnel systems, and if no burrows are available they may dig new ones.

Copulation has been observed above ground. It is not known if this is common or if these instances are exceptional. Copulation has also been observed in underground nests, by the use of radioactive markers and subsequent trapping. ("ARKive: Images of Life on Earth- Mole (Talpa europaea)", 2006; Haeck, 1969; Mellanby, 1971)

Talpa europaea has one annual breeding season in the spring from March to May. During this time, nearly all female moles caught in traps are pregnant.

Gestation lasts four weeks in T. europaea. The young are typically born in mid to late April. Generally females give birth to a single litter per year. Each litter has two to seven young, born blind and hairless. The mother nurses her young for about a month. Fur starts to grow at 14 days, and eyes begin to open at 22 days. Talpa europaea young grow rapidly and reach their adult size in about three weeks. The young begin to leave the nest at 33 days, and disperse from their mother's range around five or six weeks after birth. Moles are sexually mature during the breeding season in the spring following birth. Interestingly, female and male T. europaea show little sexual dimorphism for most of the year, but around the time of breeding season the sex organs differentiate. ("ARKive: Images of Life on Earth- Mole (Talpa europaea)", 2006; "The Mammal Society", 2006; Haeck, 1969; Mellanby, 1971)

  • Breeding interval
    European moles breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs from March to May.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 to 7
  • Average number of offspring
    3
  • Average number of offspring
    3
    AnAge
  • Average gestation period
    33 days
  • Average gestation period
    28 days
    AnAge
  • Average weaning age
    4 weeks
  • Average time to independence
    35 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    Sex: female
    182 days
    AnAge
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    Sex: male
    182 days
    AnAge

After birth, the young remain in the nest for about 33 days. During this time, the young are fed entirely with the mother's milk. They begin to leave the nest at about 33 days, but remain with the mother for another two or three weeks. During the early days, if her young are disturbed the mother carries them to another nest. The mother remains with her young during her resting periods, but leaves them for two hours or more while searching for food for herself. At five or six weeks after birth, the young disperse above ground to find their individual territories. This is the part of the mole life cycle at which they are most vulnerable to predators. ("ARKive: Images of Life on Earth- Mole (Talpa europaea)", 2006; Mellanby, 1971)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

During late summer, a Talpa europaea population was shown to include 45 percent juveniles (moles less than one year in age), 40 percent one to two year olds, and the remainder older moles, with a maximum age of five years. The highest mortality rate occurs at an age of five to six weeks, when the moles leave the mother's nest to disperse above ground and find their own territory. They are extremely vulnerable to larger predators when above ground. (Mellanby, 1971)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    5 (high) years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    2 to 3 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    2-3 years

Behavior

European moles are adapted for a fossorial lifestyle. The front limbs are highly modified for digging, allowing them to burrow underneath the ground. Burrow systems can be quite extensive, spanning up to a half of a kilometer. Moles spend most of their life underground in these burrows, unless accidentally exposed to the light. Underground tunnels are used for food, collection, storage, and nesting.

Talpa europaea individuals live solitary lives except during breeding season, and actively defend their territory. European moles are nocturnal, hunting prey and remaining active only at night. Moles usually have three periods of rest and three periods of activity every 24 hours. (Haeck, 1969; Mellanby, 1971)

In newly cultivated or sandy soils European moles form shallow, temporary burrows underneath the top layers of soil that can be visible on the surface. Different tunnels are utilized during different seasons. The likely reason for this is that during summer months, moles are able to find food near the surface. As the weather gets colder, it is only possible to find food in deeper, warmer soil. Female and male moles have different systems of constructing burrows. Females build an irregular network, where males tend to build a long, straight tunnel with others branching off of it. (Haeck, 1969; Mellanby, 1971)

Permanent tunnel systems, particularly in clay soils, can be used by multiple generations of moles. European moles are known to build "fortresses," structured mounds containing more than 750 kg of soil at times. Internally, the fortresses contain one or more nest chambers and a network of tunnels.

European moles build a nest for sleeping. The nest consists of an enlarged section of the burrow, filled with dry grass or dead leaves. Females also use these nests when they give birth to a litter. The young remain in the nest for about five weeks. (Haeck, 1969; Mellanby, 1971)

Despite their subterranean and solitary lifestyle, these moles seem to be aware of the presence and behavior of their neighbors. Moles usually remain within the confines of their own tunnel system except during mating season. However, experiments have shown that if a mole is removed from its territory, neighboring moles will rapidly take over this area. If two moles encounter each other during a time other than the breeding season, a fight usually occurs. This is an infrequent event, which indicates that despite overlapping ranges, moles rarely encounter other moles, and avoid the risk of aggression. (Haeck, 1969; Mellanby, 1971)

  • Range territory size
    300 to 3000 m^2

Home Range

Home range size varies from 300 to 3000 square meters. ("ARKive: Images of Life on Earth- Mole (Talpa europaea)", 2006; Mellanby, 1971)

Communication and Perception

Moles use urine to mark their territory. Both males and females have a pair of scent glands beneath the skin. These glands are slightly larger in males, but increase in size in both sexes during the breeding season, indicating that scent is important in finding a mate. (Mellanby, 1971)

Food Habits

European moles feed on invertebrates. There are three methods used by moles for obtaining food. These include 1) digging in the soil, 2) walking through the burrow system, and 3) searching on the surface of the ground. The relative importance of these methods for a particular mole depends on soil conditions and the experience of the individual mole. Talpa europaea is polyphasic, spending most of its active periods in search of food.

Earthworms are the main constituent of the T. europaea diet in habitats where they constitute a majority of the biomass of the soil fauna. In areas without as many earthworms, insects are the main dietary constituent. Moles eat both larval and adult insects. (Beolchini and Loy, 2004; Gorman and Stone, 1990; Jenkins, 2002; Mellanby, 1971)

  • Animal Foods
  • eggs
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • terrestrial worms

Predation

Moles are susceptible to predators mainly during the rare moments when they can be found above ground. They are most susceptible when they are young and leave the mother's nest to disperse above ground and find a territory. Predation on moles most commonly occurs during the spring and summer months. The main predators are birds, including owls, buzzards, herons, ravens, and gulls. Dogs and cats are also known to catch moles in the spring and summer. Humans remain the number one threat to moles, however, as they are considered agricultural pests and are actively persecuted. (Gorman and Stone, 1990; Haeck, 1969; Mellanby, 1971)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Talpa europaea changes its habitat when it introduces networks of underground burrows. Moles are predators of insects and worms, and prey for certain kinds of birds and larger mammals. European moles are hosts for a number of parasites, including fleas, ticks, and worms. (Haeck, 1969; Mellanby, 1971)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Moles help control some kinds of injurious insects and they may improve fertility of soils by aerating them. (Gorman and Stone, 1990)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Talpa europaea is widely regarded as an agricultural pest. The burrowing habits and raising of molehills can cause damage to farmland, and heavy mole infestation can lead to serious economic problems for the farmers. Newly cultivated and planted arable fields are habitats where moles can move easily through the surface soil. This can cause damage to the roots of young plants, to the extent that they wilt or die. Mole hills can also cause damage to the blades of mowing machines and grain harvesters later in the year. This can cause expensive delays in the harvest. Many farmers make serious efforts to stop mole populations from occupying their land, using traps or poisons. (Gorman and Stone, 1990; Haeck, 1969; Mellanby, 1971)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

European moles are common and widespread throughout their range, they are not considered at risk currently.

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

Emily Sondergaard (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor, instructor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

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. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

endothermic

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.

forest

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

fossorial

Referring to a burrowing life-style or behavior, specialized for digging or burrowing.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

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

pheromones

chemicals released into air or water that are detected by and responded to by other animals of the same species

polygynandrous

the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

scent marks

communicates by producing scents from special gland(s) and placing them on a surface whether others can smell or taste them

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

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

suburban

living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.

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.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

urban

living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

viviparous

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

References

2006. "ARKive: Images of Life on Earth- Mole (Talpa europaea)" (On-line). Accessed March 24, 2006 at http://www.arkive.org/species/ARK/mammals/Talpa_europaea/.

"Mole" (On-line). Young People's Trust for the Environment. Accessed March 22, 2006 at http://www.yptenc.org.uk/docs/factsheets/animal_facts/mole.html.

2006. "The Mammal Society" (On-line). Fact sheet: the Mole Talpa europaea . Accessed April 18, 2006 at http://www.abdn.ac.uk/mammal/mole.shtml.

Beolchini, F., A. Loy. 2004. Diet of syntopic moles Talpa romana and Talpa europaea in central Italy. Mammalian Biology, 69/2: 140-144.

Gorman, M., D. Stone. 1990. The Natural History of Moles. Ithaca, New York: Comstock Publishing Associates.

Haeck, J. 1969. Colonization of the Mole (Talpa europaea L.) in the Ijsselmeerpolders. Netherlands: Netherlands Journal of Zoology.

Jenkins, I. 2002. "Digimorph- An NSF Digital Library at UT Austin" (On-line). Talpa europaea (European mole). Accessed March 24, 2006 at http://www.digimorph.org/specimens/Talpa_europaea/.

Macdonald, D. 1984. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. New York, NY: Facts on File, Inc..

Mellanby, K. 1971. The Mole. Great Britain: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd.