This section is from the book "The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation", by George Abbey. Also available from Amazon: The Balance Of Nature And Modern Conditions Of Cultivation.
The Mole (Talpa europaea or T. europaeus), Fig. 6, is the type of the family Talpidae, which is included in the order Insectivora. The body is covered with thick glossy hair of furry consistence. The toes are five in number to each foot, and furnished with strong claws of curved shape admirably adapted for burrowing. The fore-feet are of peculiar form and the palms turned backwards and outwards so as to scoop out the earth from the burrow, whilst the hinder limbs are used to throw the material behind the animal as it burrows forward. The eyes of the adult mole are rudimentary and functionally useless, whilst external ears are wholly wanting, yet the internal ears are perfectly developed, as also is the olfactory sense. In length the common mole measures on an average about 4 in. The female brings forth four to six young, about the month of April, and these are lodged in a special nest prepared by the parents, and lined by young grass and soft roots.
Fig. 6. - The Mole and Mole Hill.
Moles live in pairs, the habitation, formed under an hillock, Fig. 6, lower figure, consisting of an upper and lower gallery, which communicate by five passages, the principal chamber being contained within the lower and larger gallery, from which the mole can escape, either by the high road of the upper or lower gallery, and which lead to the hunting grounds. The burrows in these are sometimes superficial, as in summer, when worms are near the surface, and at other times, as in winter, the burrows are deeper, and often of considerable depth, assumedly to secure water in situations at a far distance from a brook or ditch. Each mole or pair has its own hunting grounds, yet there are high roads connecting the different hunting grounds with each other, which may be used by individuals in common, but if two moles meet, either one must make speedy retreat, or an encounter takes place, resulting in the vanquishing of the weaker.
The mole is common in England, Wales and Scotland, but is said to be comparatively rare in Ireland. It inhabits or frequents woods, copses, commons, moors, and waste places, hedgerows and ditches, pastures and meadows, arable land, parks, pleasure grounds orchards and gardens. In these locations the mole tunnels in various directions and varied depths in quest of food, which consists of worms, insect larvae, notably wireworm, cockchafer grubs, and other root-devouring pests. By its burrowing it cuts the roots of plants, these being uprooted by the surface runs or covered up by the hillocks, hence in gardens, allotments, and arable land the mole is an intolerable nuisance, indeed, in all cultivated land and well-kept grounds. In pastures and meadows the mole may be tolerated in winter and early spring, when the greater proportion of molehills are thrown up, and if the mounds are spread just before the fields are closed for hay, few more will appear, as in summer the mole works near its breeding place, such as a hedge-bank, where, in the ditch and its sides it finds sufficient food. Besides, the mould upcast by moles dispersed by chain and brush harrowing acts as a sort of top-dressing and benefits grass land.
The retirement of moles in summer to damp, shady places for feeding, such as ditches and hollows by or in woods and copses, marks the measure of its usefulness in these locations as most pronounced, where, and in waste places, the balance of nature is not materially affected by cultivation, and from whence incursions are made by predatory pests to the prejudice of the cultivator of the soil. Thus the mole is useful, inasmuch as all the grubs it destroys in woods, copses and waste places are kept from adult stage, when they take flight and invade cultivated ground, doing more harm by their larvae than the mole, kept within bounds, itself commits by tunnelling, underdraining, aerating, and top-dressing the ground, blending the subsoil constituents with the surfacing debris.