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The Mole


Of all the mammalia the Mole is entitled to take the first place

in the list of burrowers. This extraordinary creature does not

merely dig tunnels in the ground and sit at the end of them, as is

the case with many animals, but it forms a complicated subterranean

dwelling place with chambers, passages and other arrangements of

wonderful completeness. It has regular roads leading to its feeding

grounds; establishes a sys
em of communication as elaborate as

that of a modern railway, or, to be more correct, as that of the

subterranean network of the sewers of a city. It is an animal of

varied accomplishments. It can run tolerably fast, it can fight

like a bull-dog, it can capture prey under or above ground, it can

swim fearlessly, and it can sink wells for the purpose of quenching

its thirst. Take the mole out of its proper sphere, and it is awkward

and clumsy as the sloth when placed on level ground, or the seal

when brought ashore. Replace it in the familiar earth and it becomes

a different being, full of life and energy, and actuated by a fiery

activity which seems quite inconsistent with its dull aspect and

seemingly inert form.

We all know that the mole burrows under the ground, raising at

intervals the little hillocks or mole hills with which we are

so familiar; but most of us little know the extent or variety of

its tunnels, or that the animal works on a regular system and does

not burrow here and there at random. How it manages to form its

burrows in such admirably straight lines, is not an easy problem,

because it is always done in black darkness, and we know of nothing

which can act as a guide to the animal. As for ourselves and other

eye-possessing creatures, the feat of walking in a straight line

with closed eyelids is almost an impossibility, and every swimmer

knows the difficulty of keeping a straight course under water,

even with the use of his eyes.

The ordinary mole hills, so plentiful in our fields, present nothing

particularly worthy of notice. They are merely the shafts through

which the quadruped miner ejects the material which it has scooped

out, as it drives its many tunnels through the soil, and if they

be carefully opened after the rain has consolidated the heap of

loose material, nothing more will be discovered than a simple hole

leading into the tunnel. But let us

strike into one of the large tunnels, as any mole catcher will

teach us, and follow it up to the real abode of the animal. The

hill under which this domicile is hidden, is of considerable size,

but is not very conspicuous, being always placed under the shelter of

a tree, shrub, or a suitable bank, and would scarcely be discovered

but by a practiced eye. The subterranean abode within the hillock

is so remarkable that it involuntarily reminds the observer of the

well-known maze, which has puzzled the earliest years of youth

throughout many generations. The central apartment, or keep,

if we so term it, is a nearly spherical chamber, the roof of which

is almost on a level with the earth around the hill, and therefore

situated at a considerable depth from the apex of the heap. Around

this keep are driven two circular passages or galleries, one just

level with the ceiling and the other at some height above. Five

short descending passages connect the galleries with each other,

but the only entrance into the keep is from the upper gallery,

out of which three passages lead into the ceiling of the keep. It

will be seen therefore that when the mole enters the house from

one of its tunnels, it has first to get into the lower gallery

to ascend thence into the upper gallery, and so descend into the

central chamber. There is, however, another entrance into the keep

from below. A passage dips downward from the centre of the chamber,

and then, taking a curve upwards, opens into one of the larger burrows

or high roads, as they may be fitly termed. It is a noteworthy

fact that the high roads, of which there are several radiating in

different directions, never open into the gallery opposite one

of the entrances into the upper gallery. The mole therefore is

obliged to go to the right or left as soon as it enters the domicile

before it can find a passage to the upper gallery. By the continual

pressure of the moles upon the walls of the passages and roof of

the central chamber, they become quite smooth, hard, and polished,

so that the earth will not fall in, even after the severest storm.

The use of so complicated a series of cells and passages is extremely

doubtful, and our total ignorance of the subject affords another

reason why the habits of this wonderful animal should be better


About the middle of June the moles begin to fall in love, and are

as furious in their attachments as in all other phases of their

nature. At that time two male moles cannot meet without mutual

jealousy, and they straightway begin to fight, scratching, tearing,

and biting with such insane fury that they seem unconscious

of anything except the heat of battle. Indeed the whole life of

the mole is one of fury, and he eats like a starving tiger, tearing

and rending his prey with claws and teeth, and crunching audibly

the body of the worm between the sharp points. Magnify the mole

to the size of the lion and you will have a beast more terrible

than the world has yet seen. Though nearly blind, and therefore

incapable of following its prey by sight, it would be active beyond

conception, springing this way and that way as it goes along, leaping

with lightness and quickness upon any animal which it meets, rending

it in pieces in a moment, thrusting its blood-thirsty snout into

the body of its victim, eating the still warm and bleeding flesh,

and instantly searching for fresh prey. Such a creature would,

without the least hesitation, devour a serpent twenty feet in length,

and so terrible would be its voracity that it would eat twenty or

thirty of such snakes in a day as easily as it devours the same

number of worms. With one grasp of its teeth and one stroke of

its claws, it could tear an ox asunder; and if it should happen

to enter a fold of sheep or enclosure of cattle, it would kill

them all for the mere lust of slaughter. Let, then, two of such

animals meet in combat, and how terrific would be the battle! Fear

is a feeling of which the mole seems to be utterly unconscious,

and, when fighting with one of its own species, he gives his whole

energies to the destruction of his opponent without seeming to heed

the injuries inflicted upon himself. From the foregoing sketch

the reader will be able to estimate the extraordinary energies of

this animal, as well as the wonderful instincts with which it is


The fur of the mole is noted for its clean, velvety aspect; and

that an animal should be able to pass unsoiled through earth of

all textures is a really remarkable phenomenon. It is partly to

be explained by the character of the hair, and partly by that of

the skin. The hair of the mole is peculiar on account of its want

of set. The tops of the hairs do not point in any particular

direction, but may be pressed equally forward or backward or to

either side. The microscope reveals the cause of this peculiarity.

The hair is extremely fine at its exit from the skin, and gradually

increases in thickness until it reaches its full width when it

again diminishes. This alternation occurs several times in each

hair, and gives the peculiar velvet-like texture with which we

are all so familiar. There is scarcely any coloring matter in the

slender portion of the hair, and the beautiful changeable coppery

hues of the fur is owing to this structure. Another reason for the

cleanliness of the fur is the strong, though membranous muscle beneath

the skin. While the mole is engaged in travelling, particularly in

loose earth, the soil for a time clings to the fur; but at tolerably

regular intervals the creature gives the skin a sharp and powerful

shake, which throws off at once the whole of the mould that has

collected upon the fur. Some amount of dust still remains, for,

however clean the fur of a mole may seem to be, if the creature

be placed for an hour in water, a considerable quantity of earth

will be dissolved away and fall to the bottom of the vessel. The

improvement in the fur after being well washed with soft tepid

water and soap, is almost incredible. Many persons have been struck

with such admiration for the fur of the mole, that they have been

desirous of having a number of the skins collected and made into a

waist-coat. This certainly can be done, but the garment thus made

is so very hot that it can only be worn in winter. Such garments

are very expensive, and owing to the tender quality of the skin,

possess but little lasting powers. There is also a wonderfully

strong smell about the mole; so strong, indeed, that dogs will

sometimes point at moles instead of game, to the great disgust

of their masters. This odor adheres obstinately to the skin, and

even in furs which have been dried for more than ten years, this

peculiar savor has been noticed.

We have given much space to the mole, not particularly on account

of its particular usefulness to the trapper, but because of its

many claims to our notice. If the creature were a rare and costly

inhabitant of some distant land, how deep would be the interest

which it would incite. But because it is a creature of our country,

and to be found in every field, there are but few who care to examine

a creature so common, or who experience any feelings save those

of disgust when they see a mole making its way over the ground

in search of a soft spot in which to burrow.

In many localities this interesting animal exists in such numbers

as to become a positive nuisance, and the invention of a trap which

would effectually curtail their depredations has been a problem

to many a vexed and puzzled farmer.

Mole traps of various kinds have found their way into our agricultural

papers, but none has proved more effectual than the one we describe

on page 119. An arrangement of the figure four, page 107, is

also sometimes employed with good success. In this case the bait

stick crosses the upright stick close to the ground, and rests over

the burrow of the mole, the earth being previously pressed down to

the surrounding level. The stone should be narrow and very heavy, and

of course no bait is required.

The pieces should be set carefully, and so adjusted that the lifting

of the soil beneath the stick as the mole forces its way through

the compressed earth will dislodge the bait stick and let down

the stone with its crushing weight.

Another method consists in embedding a deep flower pot in one of

the main tunnels of the animal, and carefully replacing the soil

above. The mole in traversing his burrow thus falls into the pit

and is effectually captured. This is a very ingenious mode of taking

the animal, and rewarded its inventor with seven moles on the first

night of trial.

There are a number of other devices said to work excellently, but

the above we believe to be the most effectual of all.

There are several species of American moles, the star-nosed variety

being familiar to most of us. The most common moles are the shrew

moles, with pointed noses. The silver mole is a large species, of

a changeable silvery color, found on the Western prairies. The

Oregon mole is nearly black, with purplish or brownish reflections.

The most beautiful of all the moles is found at the Cape of Good

Hope. It is of about the size of the ordinary American species, and

its soft fur glistens with brilliant green and golden reflections.

The fur of this species is probably the most wonderful and beautiful

in the whole animal kingdom.