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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Holy Mole-y!

Yesterday I had the utterly delightful experience of photographing a shrew-mole.

The first evidence that a mole had been at work.
My mother and I were setting out for my physical therapy appointment and as the car pulled out of the driveway, I noticed that a mole had been at work in our front lawn. Up until the last couple of years, there were no moles in our neighborhood. However, there have recently been moles aplenty, though we'd managed to spend the winter mole-free. As we sighed over the state of the lawn, I saw movement. The grass quivered, heaved, and then out popped a mole head! Well, I couldn't resist jumping out of the car, stopped half in the driveway and half in the street, to see a mole in person! And there it was, its little head and classic mole paws sticking out of the moss! It then ducked its head back down and continued rooting around in the lawn with its little furry black back sticking out. I couldn't believe how small it was or, when I touched it, how soft. However, I needed to get back in the car to go to my PT appointment, so off we went, leaving the mole to do its thing.

A closeup of one of the little channels it had dug.

The mole moving through one of its trails in the grass.

The velvety soft fur on the mole's back.

A pink mole nose sticking up out of the moss!

When we returned home a couple of hours later, I went in the house to get my camera in case the mole was still around, not actually thinking I would be so lucky as to see a mole on the surface again. But as I approached the trails in the grass where the mole had been working, I could hear the sound of it working away just underneath the moss (like many lawns in the Pacific Northwest, we have as much moss as grass) and sure enough, it made another appearance! I was never so lucky to see it paused with its head sticking up like I did the first time, but it was quite busy going about its business and did not seem to mind my presence as long as I didn't move around much, so I spent a very happy hour sitting on our driveway taking pictures. It was with reluctance that I eventually went in for dinner. After uploading the pictures I'd taken and seeing that I'd managed to get some good ones despite having to use the manual focus option on my camera (with my hand tremor, it's generally advisable for me to use the autofocus setting, but in this case I needed to be better able to select the depth of the focus to catch the mole in action than was possible on autofocus), I went out again because, after all, how often to you get to photograph a mole? I was once again able to locate it by sound and when it seemed disinclined to go scurrying about like it had before, I must confess I poked at its position under the moss until it decided to go hunting in its little trails again. It may not be entirely ethical to disturb an animal, but seeing as it probably has poison in its future, I decided to bend my rules about leaving nature alone (my dad is in charge of the mole eradication efforts, so my flexible conscience is unsullied in that area), and make the most of my unprecedented access to a mole. Once again, my efforts were rewarded!

That's the mole's tail on the right with displaced
dirt from the hole it was digging on the left.

Mole tail!

A hind paw.

A glimpse of the long nails on the mole's hind paw.

The photographs aren't perfect because that little bugger is FAST. While its back was often visible, it seldom stuck its little nose out and it moved that long and flexible snout so quickly that it was hard to catch it when it did break the surface. That is why there are considerably more photographs of the mole's hind end than the front! Still, I was delighted to have had this opportunity at all. I've seen a mole at work before in the sense that while looking out the window, I've seen a mole hill increasing in size, but they don't often come above ground! Why it was willing to expose itself for several hours is beyond me (I suspect that the food payoff must have been worth it), but there is no other wild animal that would have tolerated me sitting there at such close quarters. Moles may not have much in the way of vision, but they have keen hearing, so I have to assume it was aware I was there, especially since I poked it occasionally! Anyone who has followed this blog at all knows that I love animals, so it was thrilling to have an opportunity to watch a seldom-seen critter at work and to be able to take photos of it, too, was incredible.

I caught that fast-moving little pink snout in the act of intercepting a tasty grub snack!

Mole face!
I was so excited to see that this picture turned out as well as it did because the mole
did the neatest little flip turn in its tunnel immediately after I snapped this shot!

Another glimpse of the mole's face, captured the second time I went out!

Digging back into the dirt.

I went out again this afternoon to see if the mole was still about, and while I saw lots of mole handiwork and spent an hour and a half squatting in a corner of the backyard holding my heavy camera, I was only able to catch half a dozen fleeting glimpses of the tip of its little pink nose because it was busy tunneling just below the surface of the dirt and pine needles instead of out in the open. I suppose it's possible if I keep my eyes (and ears) open, I'll get another opportunity, but I'm really extremely lucky to have 70 macro photographs of a mole on the prowl that required no more effort than showing up, paying attention, and sitting in my front yard for an hour or so!

New mole handiwork near the backyard fence.

Mole hole, but, alas, no mole.

I just did a little research and what I saw was an American shrew-mole, the smallest type of mole found in North America. They usually measure less than four inches long and weigh only .35 ounces! Unlike eastern moles, shrew moles often forage above ground, so the behavior I saw was typical for the tiny little worm and insect eaters. Some argue that shrew-moles are not true moles, but rather a species that is an intermediary link between shrews and moles. Other fun mole facts: A group of moles is known as a "labour." Mole saliva contains a toxin that paralyzes earthworms, allowing moles to store multiple live worms in larders for later consumption. Moles squeeze out the dirt in earthworms before they eat them. The American shrew-mole is the only shrew-mole found in North America (the others are found in Asia) and it is only found in the Pacific Northwest. I have most definitely learned a lot about moles, thanks to our little lawn disrupter!

Mole rump!


  1. He is adorable..... We get moles in the basement in the winter... They come in to stay warm. The Boys of course think they are a snack. Gaela catches them and takes them back outside where they might have a chance. The Boys are mighty hunters and without Gaela's intervention the moles would be goners. The funny thing is we don't have a problem with them in the summers digging up the lawn.. I don't know why.

  2. I've got to be honest and tell you some of your photos made me a bit squirmy! LOL-This is my first look at a mole! I can't believe you got so many good photos! Thanks for sharing. I had a great time scrolling through.

    from Blogging Buddies

  3. Aww, I am surprised he is so cute. I never thought I'd think a mole was that charming, lol! I loved seeing your photos, and as always your post was super well written and truly a delightful read! :)


  4. Love it! Mole handiwork... what a lovely way to think about it. After all, everything has a job and a mole's job is to dig. Fabulous catch, Colleen!

  5. I love the one of his little nose. I had never seen one during the day. I used to only see them in the early morning caught by the cat the night before. :/ It always makes me think of Wind in the Willows.

  6. We just saw 2 (I think) in our backyard yesterday. I was filling a small pool for the grandkids and saw the grass moving and something black squirming by. We watched it for a while and saw it go near our basement bilco doors. I was not as brave as you (I went in the house an immediately switched from flip-flops to sneakers). Called the exterminator today -- definitely don't want them in the house or I won't be in the house till they're gone! Great pictures though!