How Do Moles Live Underground?


Moles can be found most commonly in pastures and grasslands, which can be evidenced by the amount of mole hills found on top of the ground. They can also be found in forests and deciduous woods. They live in a network of tunnels, which can be used for other generations over a period of years. Some mole tunnels have been in use for over 20 years.

Finding Food

Moles have their own territory, approximately 550 sq yards. This territory contains all of the tunnels, but the length of the burrows varies depending on the soil type. If the soil has a plentiful supply of insects and worms such as clay then the tunnels may be shorter.

The tunnels act as a trap for many worms and insects. As they fall down into the tunnels, the mole runs up and down the tunnels picking up the food.

Worms are one of the most important sources of food for a mole, but they will also eat many other insects and small invertebrates.

Territory

Mole tunnels in woodland are generally the shortest but most permanent of all territories. This is due to the abundance of food in the area as there is little disturbance and plenty of plants to support food. In woodland areas there are normally six or less territories, each supporting one mole. In a woodland area with six territories there may be three tons of worms to support them.

Moles can also be found in sandy soils but here a longer tunnel system is needed. As there is not as much food in sandy soils, the tunnels need to be longer to be able to allow more insects and worms to drop down into the tunnels.

Moles are solitary animals and live their lives in their own territory. However they also have a communal tunnel which can lead to many territories. When a mole leaves a territory then another mole may use the communal tunnel to take over the unused territory.

Nests

Moles also have at least one nest that is connected to the tunnels. The nest is rugby-ball shaped and about 8 inches long. The nest is made of dried grass or leaves which they get from the surface.

The dry weather can affect moles as well as there is less food in the tunnels, which will make the mole seek out prey elsewhere. Moles come out of their tunnels using the nest more often than thought but are extremely stealthy when above ground.

Moles will not stay above the ground for long, returning to its nest and tunnels.

If moles cannot find enough food, particularly in summer then they may abandon their nest and move to another territory a few hundred meters away.

Mating

Moles are not social and can be aggressive when coming face to face with another mole, even a female. However, in spring they are social when it comes to finding a mate. In February, the male will leave his tunnels to find a female. The male will enter their burrow, where many times they are chased out.

However, if the female is receptive then they may accept each other briefly and not fight. They stay together for a few hours before the male leaves and goes back to their nest and tunnels. Most females will become pregnant by spring.

Early Life

Moles are born naked and helpless. The pink babies are suckled for four weeks by their mother. In this time they grow quickly, growing to half their adult size and developing fur.

They eat chewed-up worms that are brought to them by their mother. They will start to explore the burrows near the nest. At about six weeks they are almost ready to leave their mother and their aggressive instincts kick in. Once the mother has had enough of them then they will be expelled from the tunnels.

Young moles spend a lot of time moving above ground trying to find a new territory. Many are preyed upon by birds, especially owls and other birds of prey.

If they are lucky they may be able to find a burrow that is empty, but if not they will have to dig their own.

Are Moles Really Blind?

Moles are not blind but they do not see well and they are colorblind. Their eyes are fully formed with a lens, iris and a retina, but the optic nerve only have a small number of nerve fibers in leaving it poorly developed.

Senses

Moles make up for their poor eyesight using other senses, allowing them to live in harsh conditions with success. Their hearing is also not great but their keen sense of smell can detect food such as earthworms within a few inches.

Moles have hairs on its nose and its body that are very sensitive. They also have thousands of tiny papillae which are raised bumps on its snout. The papillae are filled with nerve endings known as Eimer’s organs. The sensors detect air movement and vibrations allowing the mole to move around inside its tunnels at speeds of almost three miles an hour.

8 Hour Day

Moles are unique in that they fit 3 of their days into one of ours. They spend about four hours sleeping in their nest before moving about their burrow for the next four hours. They then do this again, effectively having an 8 hour day.

How active a mole is depends on their food supply. If they find food quickly, feeding on a few worms, then they do not need to find more food. If food is bountiful then they will bite the heads off the worms to stop them getting away, stacking them in a larder tunnel off the side of their burrow.

If they do not find enough food and has not had enough food then they will still sleep after four hours so they do not waste energy. However, if this occurs a few times and the mole is not getting enough food then they will dig further tunnels or lengths of burrow to find more food. If the tunnels are extremely bad then they may move to another location.

Bryan Harding

Bryan has spent his whole life around animals. While loving all animals, Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Not only does Bryan share his knowledge and experience with our readers, but he also serves as owner, editor, and publisher of North American Mammals.

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