Species of Moles
There are about 30 species of moles in the world. North American species include the eastern mole, a golden or slate-colored mole found from Wyoming to Massachusetts and southern Florida, and the hairy-tailed mole, a gray mole with white snout and tail, found in New England and southern Canada. The star-nosed mole, common in southern Canada and the Midwest, is named for 22 fleshy appendages arranged in the form of a star on the end of its nose. These appendages, called tentacles, or rays, are sensory organs used to locate food. One of the largest North American moles is the Townsend mole, a blackish-brown mole of the Pacific Northwest. The European mole, found in eastern Europe and Central Asia, is gray.
The star-nosed mole is one of the strangest looking insectivores on the earth. It gets its name from its snout, which has 22 pink, tentaclelike feelers branching out from its tip. These special feelers help the mole find insects and other prey in its tunnels.
The star-nosed mole does not spend all its time underground, however. It builds its home near the shore of a brook or a pond or by a swamp. It is an excellent swimmer and often hunts for insects, fish, and shellfish on the water’s bottom.
It is the water-loving Russian desman (DEHS muhn). This insectivore lives in southeastern Europe and central western Asia. Desmans are larger than moles, growing to lengths of 14 inches (36 centimeters) from nose to tail. They weigh about 6 ounces (170 grams).
The Russian desman uses its flattened tail and webbed feet to propel it through the water. When it needs air, it pokes its snout above the water’s surface.
The desman is one of the few insectivores that does not live alone. Up to eight adult desmans may live together in an underground burrow.
Sometimes a name can be misleading. Golden moles are not really members of the mole family. The main trait golden moles share with true moles is that both types of animals are suited to living underground.
Golden moles live in central and southern Africa. They get their name from their shiny, golden fur.
The most unusual member of this insectivore family is Grant’s golden mole. While some true moles swim in water, Grant’s golden mole—sometimes called a sand fish— “swims” in sand, digging tunnels as long as 145 feet (45 meters). The tunnels are not permanent because the sand is loose. New ones must be made all the time.
Moles belong to the family Talpidae. The eastern mole is Scalopus aquaticus; hairy-tailed, Parascalops breweri; star-nosed, Condylura cristata; Townsend, Scapanus townsendi; European, Talpa europaea.