Mole, Giant Golden

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Mole, giant golden

Chrysospalax trevelyani

phylum: Chordata

class: Mammalia

order: Insectivora

family: Chrysochloridae

status: Endangered, IUCN

range: South Africa

Description and biology

There are 17 species of golden moles, all found in Africa. The giant golden mole, the largest, rarest, and most endangered of the golden moles, is about 8 inches (20 centimeters) long and weighs as much as 19 ounces (538 grams). Its fur is shiny and reddish-brown. Giant golden moles have tiny eyes that are covered by skin, making them blind. Their ears, too, are tiny and hidden in fur.

The giant golden mole spends most of its time below ground, where it digs systems of tunnels. It builds hills in the ground that serve as doors into its underground chambers. The giant golden mole eats crickets, cockroaches, grasshoppers, worms, snails, and other invertebrates. One of the items on its diet is the giant earthworm, found only in South Africa and the longest known species of earthworm in the world at 4 or 5 feet (1.5 meters) long. The giant golden mole rarely comes up from underground, except when heavy rains wash out its tunnels and force it to the surface. At these times, the mole is particularly vulnerable to dogs. The giant golden mole hibernates in winter, burrowing among the roots of trees. It moves slowly but stays in motion all the time it is awake in order to keep its body temperature normal. When it sleeps, its body twitches to keep up the body temperature. A mother giant golden mole generally gives birth to two, but sometimes only one, offspring at a time.

Habitat and current distribution

Giant golden moles live in South Africa in a few areas in the Cape Province from King William's Town and East London to Port St. John in Transkei. They live in forests where there is leaf litter and dense shrubs. Because these moles are so rare and remain underground and hidden most of the time, they are difficult to study. Wildlife biologists (people who study living organisms) do not know how many giant golden moles remain in the world today.

History and conservation measures

The forests in which the giant golden mole lives are being cleared and damaged by human settlement and the overgrazing of domestic herds. Where there are humans, there are also dogs, which are predators (hunters) of giant golden moles. It is believed that some of the remaining population of giant golden moles has found refuge from dogs and human activities in Dwesa Nature Reserve, Transkei, but little is known about this rare species.