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Meet gardening's mini-Freddy Krueger


We’ve enjoyed a lush garden this summer with tall corn, big cabbages, sweet potato vines that could be jungle instead of food, and towering tomato plants. Imagine our horror when we visited the garden one morning to find an interstate of raised trails weaving in and out our plantings. This was my introduction to a live mole.

Frankly, I didn’t know much about these creatures, other than that they don’t have much for eyes. I had no idea that in one night, a six inch mammal could tunnel through long rows of corn, cabbage, tomatoes, and potatoes. If I’d been betting, I’d have told you an army of mole engineers had worn themselves out moving all that earth. I’d have been wrong.

After we discovered our visitor, I did some research. They don’t eat roots, they eat insects—earthworms are a particular favorite menu item.  They are loners. The only time they get together with other moles is in February and March to, well, make other moles. Socialization is very low on their bucket list. One source suggested five moles an acre would be a crowd.

Though they are small, a six inch torpedo-shaped mammal, they’re efficient.  As I first observed, these  critters are digging machines.  Their front feet look like miniature ping pong paddles with Freddie Krueger nails. Apparently the muscles attached to these pink shovels are especially strong as these long nosed critters have a “lateral digging force equivalent to 32 times its body weight.”  An expert explained this compares to a 150 lb. man exerting a 4800 lb. lateral force. That’s some serious earth moving ability.

Not only can these guys tunnel earth at 18 feet per hour, their respiratory systems have adapted to their underground existence.  They have twice as much blood and red hemoglobin as another mammal of their size. This enables them to thrive underground in a world with low oxygen and high carbon dioxide ratios.

Since they can’t see so well in their dark world, they don’t have much for eyes. In fact, looking at one, it’s hard to see an resemblance of these orbs that most humans take for granted.  If they can’t see potential food, they have to do something. And they do. Their noses work at optimum capacity, allowing them to smell an earthworm and latch onto it in no time. Their saliva contains a toxin to permit them to paralyze prey so they can eat it at their convenience.  As I noted earlier, they are a miniature model of efficiency. 

Knowing more about these soil shovelers gives me a new appreciation for them and their capabilities.  However, I don’t want to see their  tunnel building craftsmanship in my garden, even if they aren’t eating the roots of my thriving greenery.