Moles are small mammals that spend most of their lives underground. They feed primarily on soil-borne insects and earthworms that they encounter while tunneling beneath the surface. Moles are related to shrews and bats. Seven species occur in North America, including the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus, Figure 1), hairy-tailed mole (Parascalops breweri), star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata),broad-footed mole (Scapanus latimanus),Townsend’s mole (Scapanus townsendii), coast mole (Scapanus orarius), and shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii). The eastern mole is the most common and widespread and will be the basis of this module.
Moles are unprotected in most states.
Moles have several physical characteristics (Figure 2) that distinguish them from voles, shrews, and pocket gophers, with which they often are confused. The snout is hairless, pointed, and extends nearly ½ inch in front of the opening of the mouth. The small eyes and openings of the ear canal are concealed in fur. They lack external ears. The forefeet of eastern moles are large and broad, with palms wider than they are long.
The toes are webbed to the base of the claws, which are broad and depressed. The hind feet are small and narrow, with slender, sharp claws. The fur is short, dense, and very soft with no knap, allowing moles to travel backwards in tunnels. Male eastern moles typically are 7 inches in total length, while females are slightly smaller. Average length of the tail is 1¼ inches and average weight is 4 ounces (males) and 3 ounces (females).
Eastern moles are the most common of the species and range across most of the eastern US to Wyoming and Colorado (Figure 3). Star-nosed moles are common in the northeastern US and southeastern Canada, sharing much of the same range as the hairy-tailed mole.
The other 4 species live west of the Rocky Mountains. Townsend moles and coast moles live in the northwest corner of the US and southwest Canada. Broad-footed moles live in southern Oregon and throughout the coastal region of California, except for Baja. Shrew moles are found along the West Coast from southern California to British Columbia.
Voice and Sounds
Moles rarely make a sound that can be heard by humans, but cats and dogs can hear them tunneling in yards.
Tracks and Signs
The presence of moles is easily identifiable by mounds and tunnels. Moles burrow where food is located. Mounds are the result of tunnel excavation 6 inches or deeper in the soil. Deep tunnels are used for travel among different areas and may remain active during winter. Feeding tunnels occur just below the surface of the soil, wind around aimlessly, and are excavated while moles are searching for food. Runs are long, straight surface tunnels that often are used by moles to get from feeding areas to dens deep belowground. Surface tunnels easily collapse when stepped on.