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Scalopus aquaticus (eastern mole)

Moles can do great damage to lawns, gardens, golf greens, farms, parks and playing fields. Here's a bit of information on just what they can do...

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Insectivora
Family: Talpidae
Subfamily: Talpinae
Genus: Scalopus
Species: Scalopus aquaticus

The mole, in its search for food, burrows in lawns and other areas where soil conditions are suitable. Moles are very active tunnelers and can tunnel at a rate of 12 to 15 feet per hour. In spring and fall, these burrows are just a few inches below the surface with the soil pushed up into ridges. In summer and winter, burrows are deeper with the only evidence being mounds of soil pushed up to the surface. Both types of burrows produce damage to the lawn or garden.

Geographic Range

Scalopus aquaticus is found from southeastern Wyoming, South Dakota, and central Texas east to Michigan, Massachusetts, and New England, south to the tip of Florida, and north to Ontario. The eastern mole prefers fields, meadows, pastures, and open woodland. It is not found in stony or gravelly soils or in clay but frequents moist, sandy, and loamy soils.

Physical Description

Head and body length in Scalopus aquaticus ranges from 110 to 170mm. Tail length ranges from 18 to 36mm. This size variation occurs on a gradient with the largest animals in the northeast and the smallest in the southwest. The robust body is covered with a thick velvety fur of a color that varies from silver to black to copper. The short tail is round, almost hairless, and indistictly scaly. The feet are scantily haired above, naked below, and quite large. The webbing between the toes of each foot aids in digging. These moles have no external eyes or ears. It is thought that the poorly developed eye may be effective in detecting light.

Reproduction

Breeding and parturition occur once a year in Scalopus aquaticus. Breeding takes place in late March and early April in most of this mole's range, but the season begins in January in the south. Estimates of gestation length range from four weeks to 45 days. Litters usually contain two to five young. The young moles are independent in one month and are sexually mature by the next breeding season. One captive animal lived longer than 36 months!

Behavior

S. aquaticus has daily activity peaks from 0800 to 1600 hours and from 2300 to 0400 hours. Male home range averages 1.09 hectares whereas female home range averages only .28 hectares. These moles are not solitary. Their home ranges often overlap and several individuals have been found using the same tunnel systems. These tunnels are found in two forms. One type consists of deep, fairly permanent passageways that are used as burrows and as routes to feeding sites. The other consists of surface runways used for collecting food. Winter tunnels tend to be deeper than summer tunnels. Nest chambers of dry vegetation are usually below the surface underneath a boulder or the roots of a plant. Eastern moles can dig up to 4.5 meters in one hour with their powerful forefeet. One individual dug 31 meters of shallow tunnels in one day. Special morphological developments enable the mole to burrow with such speed. Their forefeet are large and as wide as they are long. The bones of their shoulder girdles and upper forelimbs provide broad suraces for muscle attachment. When they burrow, these moles essentially "dive" into the earth; they first thrust their forefeet into the soil and then follow with the head and body as they rotate their forelimbs and pull the loosened dirt backwards.

Scalopus aquaticus has high energy requirements and needs considerable amounts of food daily. As a result this animal forages widely; the incidence of inbreeding is low and the level of gene flow is fairly high. These patterns are unusual for fossorial mammals. Soil type and moisture are the eastern mole's major barriers to dispersal. They are good swimmers and are limited not by water itself but rather by the moist, clay-filled soils that accompany water courses. Soil acidity, which determines food abundance, provides another potential barrier to dispersal.

Food Habits

Scalopus aquaticus eats primarily earthworms. It also eats insects and their larvae, some vegetation, and, in captivity, ground beef, dog food, mice, and small birds. Each day this mole eats 25 to 100% of its own weight in food. As an insectivore, this animal eats the larvae of many insect pests. It also helps to aerate and turn over the soil.

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