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OBSERVING A MOLE By

LORD

CRANBROOK

A M O L E ( T a l p a europaea) kept in captivity, unlike a shrew which will take food f r o m the hand within a minute of being caught and quickly learns to associate h u m a n movements with food, took nearly a week to do the same. W h e n first captured its defence reaction was to t u r n partially on one side, strike with the u p p e r most fore paw and bite. W h e n it did learn to take e.g. a meal worm f r o m one's fingers it did so very gently, quite often opening the m o u t h wide enough to take in a piece of finger b u t not biting until it got hold of the worm. A shrew will bite finger, meal worm and all in a single savage snap, b u t fortunately it is not strong enough to pierce the skin. T h e mole had two methods of attack on large worms depending u p o n the ground u n d e r foot. If the glass floor of the a q u a r i u m in which it was kept was covered with a couple of inches of loose earth or peat it would seize the worm, give it a n u m b e r of bites u p and down the body and then start to eat it f r o m the head end. If the floor had merely a sprinkling of earth it would seize the worm, r u n quickly backwards for a distance of 6" u p to 18" or two feet, and then bite a n d eat the worm. Small worms and meal worms were eaten on the Spot whether in deep or shallow litter, so it would seem that running backwards is a method of dealing with large worms f o u n d lying with their tails still in their burrows when the mole is h u n t i n g on the surface. I n fact, smallish worms 3" or so in length were obviously more to its taste than the large ones though these last were all eaten in the end. I n spite of food consisting very largely of water, as do worms, the mole drank copiously burying its nose in water almost u p to the eyes and sucking in so violently that if, as was usual, it had thrown m u c h earth into its water tank, small particles could be seen swirling around as the water was sucked in.

It was difficult to arrange a drinking trough which was not always being overturned b u t finally a shallow pyrex casserole some 2" high filled with lead piping but leaving enough water exposed for drinking purpose was f o u n d to be sufficiently immovable. It had the advantage of Atting closely into one end of the aquarium, its overhanging edges making transparent mole-run like tunnels. Large worms seized in these tunnels by the mole when hungry were eaten on the s p o t : there was no " backwards running " reaction. If these tunnels were filled with earth the mole rootled its way t h r o u g h with its nose: the h a n d s seemed mainly to be used for Walking though they were used for digging when ploughing its way through deeper earth in the cage. On several occasions a mole heap was thrown u p at the corner between casserole and cage, the mole again using its nose and forehead for


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the purpose. Like a shrew or a vole, its life seemed to be made u p of periods of great activity lasting \ hour, hunting about in its cage for food, etc., followed by longer periods of an hour or two of sleep. Moles of course eat enormously, about their own weight in worms a day. It is difficult therefore to keep a proper balance between too little food and too m u c h and in fact to be on the safe side this particular mole was always kept rather over fed with worms constantly available. After four or five days in captivity the " backwards running " technique of dealing with large worms met on a more or less firm surface was not used. T h i s may have been due to the abundance of food or to experience showing that such worms did not withdraw rapidly into a hole. Given more worms than it needed, it would bury these carrying them one by one to a single place, there to bury t h e m together pushing earth on top of the worms with its nose. If, when not very hungry, it came across a worm while wandering about its cage it would sometimes bite it, eat a bit, and bury the rest on the spot coming back within a minute or so to eat it. It was impossible to teil whether it returned knowingly to a buried worm or by chance. At times it was very noisy, particularly when asleep when it often made a noise rather like a much larger animal in the last stages of pneumonia with its lungs half füll of water. It would often make low guinea-pig-like chirps when on the move, chirps which can be heard in the wild from a mole rootling about amongst dead leaves. This chirping noise was sometimes loud enough to be heard 10 or 15 yards away from the room in which it was kept and sounded almost like an animal in pain. I t was quite unlike the shriek given by a mole when caught by a dog. It took some time to settle down sufficiently happily to make a nest. In the first week it would sleep almost anywhere but thereafter it collected the nest material—which had always been available— into one place and always slept there. It was never seen to groom itself though it got covered with small bits of earth which not infrequently seemed almost matted into its f ü r when it got damp by climbing into the water trough. A series of shakes, like those given by a wet dog, seemed to be the only method it had of cleaning itself. T h o u g h it would repeatedly Scratch at its belly and flanks with its hind feet, the radius of action of these short limbs was small. T h e only other cleaning Operation was to r u b its nose and chin on any available surface after biting a large and slime-secreting worm. After a fortnight it had settled down well in captivity, would take food happily from the hand, often lifting its head when a sleeve brushed across the rim of the aquarium and allowing itself to be stroked and handled without resistance. It was then transferred to the London Zoo, to be a star in the Film Unit.

Observing a Mole  
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