Sunday, October 21, 2012

broad-footed mole ~ 10/21/12 ~ Elkhorn Slough


Hey, it's a mole!  Cool!  A dead one.  Aw, too bad.  Considering I've probably only ever seen one other mole in my life (it was dead, too, in the middle of a trail), I started wondering how I knew this was a mole.  I suspect many people would be able to recognize a picture of a mole without ever having seen one in person.  Why is that?  Children's books?  Nature shows?  Sure, I'd be able to recognize a panda or an alligator if I ever saw one firsthand.  But, moles?  They're not exactly wildly popular animals.

Then, the question for Nature ID becomes, "What kind of mole is it?"  This was a little challenging to research.  Most online pictures of moles are dead, and interestingly they all look like they've been licked by a canine or something.  I don't know why they have a wet licked look about them.  And why do they seem to go above ground to die?  I was fortunate to have found the kind with unusually large front feet to distinguish it from the numerous shrews.  There are 7 spp. of moles in North America.  Of those 7, 4 are found in CA.  Townsend's mole (Scapanus townsendii) and coast mole (Scapanus orarius) are found along the northern CA coast.  S. latimanus has the widest range in CA, but part of Monterey County is the southern-most area for shrew-moles (Neurotrichus gibbsii), which has a longer tail.  As a side note, in these scientific names here I've linked to sibr.com, a database design site which for some reason contains the exact compilation of PDFs found on the California Wildlife Habitat Relationships website in association with the California Department of Fish and Game.  If you want to see larger range maps, select the common name on the CWHR site.  For an extensive sp. account published by the American Society of Mammalogists, check out Smith College>PDFs>No. 666 (it doesn't look like it links to anything, but it opens up a PDF to the publication).  While moles are reported to eat gastropods, beetles, and earthworms (see pub No. 666), it seems they have been targeted as an enemy of the gardener, like gophers.  Poor moles.

9 comments:

randomtruth said...

There's actually an interesting answer to the question of why they're found on the trail dead and looking "licked." Shall I tell, or do you want to see if you can figure it out? :)

Imperfect and tense said...

Why do they seem to go above ground to die? Presumably we don't see the ones that die underground?

John W. Wall said...

I always figured they appear licked because they *were* licked. Or maybe coughed up. They probably come to the surface at a bad time, are pounced on, then rejected. I always wonder why some creatures get rejected. Too weird? Too small?

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Ken, I found a single reference that moles are supposedly musky and taste bad to mammals, but likely martens, coyotes, and racoons will eat them. Maybe that's why people's dogs and cats will play with them but not eat them. Wonder what's different about raptors' and possibly snakes' sense of smell/taste that allows them to have no problem eating moles. It's interesting that several other photos show the licked area on the chest and along the back, exactly the same as the one I found. I haven't looked into the validity of when moles leave their burrows. Do you have more info?

Graeme, yah, obviously we don't tend to see what's died underground. Maybe something about mole behavior lends itself for people finding them dead, because there certainly are other ground dwelling animals that have plenty of alive pictures online, like gophers.

John, you might be right about being licked. There didn't appear to be any puncture wounds. I'd like to hear back from Ken.

randomtruth said...

You guys basically have it. Insectivores - moles and shrews - are very musky little beasts. Well, it seems it's not uncommon for predators that commonly ambush small rodents (e.g., coyote, fox, bobcat) to see their rustles, catch them, carry them down the trail in their mouth for a ways, then spit them out when the disgusting musk taste builds up to intolerance.

Raccoons and possums, however, seem able to pretty much eat anything. Clean up crew.

Raptors, except TVs, all have poor noses. No better than ours.

Do snakes go after moles and shrews? I don't know. I know they love voles, but those are mice. Hmmm...

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Ken, I got the snake reference from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (the very last link in my text from "moles" - I know I need a clearer way to reference links like you do). Btw, martens is from ASM pub No. 666. If moles are like shrews, then they might only exude musky when frightened, hence why mammalian hunters can carry them a ways from their digging spot. Thanks for the push to look into this. It was fun.

Neil Kelley said...

William Buckland, the 19th. Century English geologist and naturalist who according to lore "ate his way through the animal kingdom" is supposed to have found moles and bluebottle flies the only truly inedible animals.

P.S. I just saw your comment from many days ago on Oryctology and have replied over there.

Take care!

Katie (Nature ID) said...

Neil, seriously, how much reading of 19th to early 20th century texts are you doing these days? They don't make 'em like they used to. Ha, I added another comment to your blog. I forgot to ask, did you ever meet Joe Hannibal? I wouldn't have guessed blue bottle flies would taste horrid. Oop, gotta get back to the game. Go Giants!

Jennifer said...

Unfortunately, I think I have a mole in my garden that is wreaking havoc.