The California Mole: Underground Burrower

By Dave Hanks

Climbing up a trail in Folsom Park, in the San Jose, California foothills, I noticed a most unusual creature. It was small and lay flat upon the ground.It had huge claws for its size, which seemed to protrude at a crazy angle. It was stub-tailed, had a rod-like pointed-nosed, and eyes that were hidden. It was a California Mole.

In the children’s story “Wind in the Willows”, the Mole was a cutely depicted character who abandoned the spring cleaning of his undergroundhome to experience the freedom of a new life by a river. Though this character was loveable, real Moles are not generally liked. This is because they burrow and create mounds in people’s lawns and flower beds. They are powerful digging machines with strong limbs for moving soil. Large lungs and a special circulatory system allow them to live underground in poor oxygen conditions.

Moles spend most of their life below ground, except when juveniles need to disperse in order to find a home of their own. Their diet is mostly earthworms and insects. They cannot survive more than a few hours without feeding. If earth worms are abundant, they will stockpile them by biting of their heads, twisting them into a knot, and pushing them into a soil cavity. If the worms are not eaten, they will re-grow their heads and burrow to freeedom. Moles will also eat small amounts of vegetation – especially grasses.

Sometimes they are blamed for creating the mounds that are actually made by Pocket Gophers. If the mound problem is not great, simply rake away the mounds wherever they’re formed, and there is less chance that weeds will supplant the grass in that spot. Serious Mole problems would require a trapping procedure.

If you can stand living with them, they do play an important ecological role. They aerate and mix the soil layers, along with eating large quantities of insects.

(Crossing my path on a quest for new digs)