GOLDEN MOLES-Chrysochloridae

golden-mole

GOLDEN MOLE FACTS

Generally, a golden mole looks like little more than a round to oblong lump of fur with a tiny, naked nose poking out at one end. Adults range from 2.7 to 9 inches (7 to 23.5 centimeters) long, and 0.5 to 17.6 ounces (16 to 500 grams). The fur is generally brown to gray, but it shines golden, bronze, and even purple and blue when the light hits it just right. Their small ears and tails are typically buried under their silky, thick fur, and their eyes are covered with skin beneath the fur. They have four short legs, the front two of which often have enlarged claws they use for digging. Their back legs are more slender than their powerful forelimbs and their back feet have webbing between the toes—a big help when kicking away the soil they’ve just dug. One species, the yellow golden mole, can tunnel through the soil so quickly and efficiently that it is sometimes called a “sand swimmer.” Many of the other species, like the Grant’s golden mole, also almost appear to be swimming when they travel through the loose sand in dunes.

GEOGRAPHIC RANGE

The southern half of Africa.

HABITAT

Golden moles typically live much of their lives underground in shallow burrows they dig themselves. The burrows are often visible above ground as slight ridges in the soil. Many golden moles prefer loose soil that is easily moved by their hollow claws. Some species, such as the rough-haired golden mole, make tunnels to connect chambers within mounds of soil.

WHAT DOES GOLDEN MOLE EAT?

Because their eyes are buried beneath the skin, golden moles are blind and they must rely on other senses, like touch and smell, to get around and to find prey. Food items include ants, termites, beetles, earthworms, and other invertebrates (animals without backbones) that they hunt at night. Some-times, they will feel above-ground vibrations, then burst out of their shallow tunnels to grab an insect on a blade of grass or a lizard moving along the ground. De Winton’s golden mole is noted for its ability to kill a lizard with its enlarged front claws. The typical golden mole will alternate between periods of activity and rest throughout the night, spending a considerably greater amount of time resting. Most remain active only at night, but a few, like Sclater’s golden moles, stay busy digging through the soil and looking for food both day and night.

When golden moles are confronted with a span of extreme temperatures, lengthy dry periods, and/or a lack of prey, golden moles can become inactive for a few days—a state called torporto conserve their energy until conditions become more favorable.

BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION

Like most other insectivores, golden moles live alone as adults. During the spring breeding season, males and females will come together, but only briefly. Although much of their behavior is still unknown, some mating rituals have been observed in which the male nods its head, stomps its feet, and chases the female. The two also communicate through scents that ooze out of body glands, and by making chirping and squeaking noises at one another. Females give birth to their young in a grassy nest built within a tunnel that may be several feet (a few meters) below ground. Each brood commonly has one or two, sometimes three young. The mother recognizes her offspring by their scent. She raises them only until they are able to survive on their own, and then she kicks them out and lives alone again until the next mating season.

GOLDEN MOLES AND PEOPLE

Golden moles are sometimes seen as beneficial, and other times as pests. Because they eat insects that may be destructive to vegetation, many people welcome their presence. At the same time, farmers, gardeners and homeowners may prefer that the moles and their noticeable burrows stay out of the crops and the lawn. In some cases, people kill and skin the moles for their shiny fur.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Eleven species of golden mole are at some risk, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The Red List describes four as Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction, dying out; one as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction; and six as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction. These golden moles exist in limited areas and those areas are becoming ever smaller through habitat destruction due to human activities, like farming, mining, and lumbering.