Golden Moles: Chrysochloridae
GOLDEN MOLES: ChrysochloridaeGRANT'S DESERT GOLDEN MOLE (Eremitalpa granti): SPECIES ACCOUNT
Generally, a golden mole looks like little more than a round to oblong lump of fur with a tiny, naked nose poking out at one end. Adults range from 2.7 to 9 inches (7 to 23.5 centimeters) long, and 0.5 to 17.6 ounces (16 to 500 grams). The fur is generally brown to gray, but it shines golden, bronze, and even purple and blue when the light hits it just right. Their small ears and tails are typically buried under their silky, thick fur, and their eyes are covered with skin beneath the fur. They have four short legs, the front two of which often have enlarged claws they use for digging. Their back legs are more slender than their powerful forelimbs and their back feet have webbing between the toes—a big help when kicking away the soil they've just dug. One species, the yellow golden mole, can tunnel through the soil so quickly and efficiently that it is sometimes called a "sand swimmer." Many of the other species, like the Grant's desert golden mole, also almost appear to be swimming when they travel through the loose sand in dunes.
The southern half of Africa.
Golden moles typically live much of their lives underground in shallow burrows they dig themselves. The burrows are often visible above ground as slight ridges in the soil. Many golden moles prefer loose soil that is easily moved by their hollow claws. Some species, such as the rough-haired golden mole, make tunnels to connect chambers within mounds of soil.
Because their eyes are buried beneath the skin, golden moles are blind and they must rely on other senses, like touch and smell, to get around and to find prey. Food items include ants, termites, beetles, earthworms, and other invertebrates (animals without backbones) that they hunt at night. Sometimes, they will feel above-ground vibrations, then burst out of their shallow tunnels to grab an insect on a blade of grass or a lizard moving along the ground. De Winton's golden mole is noted for its ability to kill a lizard with its enlarged front claws. The typical golden mole will alternate between periods of activity and rest throughout the night, spending a considerably greater amount of time resting. Most remain active only at night, but a few, like Sclater's golden moles, stay busy digging through the soil and looking for food both day and night.
When golden moles are confronted with a span of extreme temperatures, lengthy dry periods, and/or a lack of prey, golden moles can become inactive for a few days—a state called torpor— to conserve their energy until conditions become more favorable.
NOT ALWAYS LONERS
Although adult golden moles are typically described as loners that live a solitary life all year, except for mating season, the adults of one species are a little more friendly to one another. Among the species known as large golden moles, several adults may share a single burrow system in the winter months. This species, which is Endangered, lives in South Africa.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Like most other insectivores, golden moles live alone as adults. During the spring breeding season, males and females will come together, but only briefly. Although much of their behavior is still unknown, some mating rituals have been observed in which the male nods its head, stomps its feet, and chases the female. The two also communicate through scents that ooze out of body glands, and by making chirping and squeaking noises at one another. Females give birth to their young in a grassy nest built within a tunnel that may be several feet (a few meters) below ground. Each brood commonly has one or two, sometimes three young. The mother recognizes her offspring by their scent. She raises them only until they are able to survive on their own, and then she kicks them out and lives alone again until the next mating season.
GOLDEN MOLES AND PEOPLE
Golden moles are sometimes seen as beneficial, and other times as pests. Because they eat insects that may be destructive to vegetation, many people welcome their presence. At the same time, farmers, gardeners and homeowners may prefer that the moles and their noticeable burrows stay out of the crops and the lawn. In some cases, people kill and skin the moles for their shiny fur.
Eleven species of golden mole are at some risk, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The Red List describes four as Critically Endangered, facing an extremely high risk of extinction, dying out; one as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction; and six as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction. These golden moles exist in limited areas and those areas are becoming ever smaller through habitat destruction due to human activities, like farming, mining, and lumbering.
Physical characteristics: One of the smallest golden moles, this species reaches only about 3.0 to 3.3 inches (7.6 to 8.8 centimeters) in body length and weighs 0.5 to 1.0 ounces (15 to 32 grams). On its back, it has long, shiny, light-gray fur that is sometimes tinged with yellow. Its underside fur is lighter and yellowish. Grant's desert golden mole has three long claws on each forelimb, although they aren't as hefty as the claws in some other golden mole species.
Geographic range: South Africa and the Namib Desert in extreme southwestern Africa.
Habitat: Coastal sand dunes, typically areas with some dune grass, are its preferred habitat.
Diet: Its diet consists of various invertebrates, such as spiders, termites, beetles, and ants, that it hunts at night. When the opportunity presents itself, these moles will also eat kill and eat lizards, some of which may be as long as the mole.
Behavior and reproduction: Active at night, it will venture above ground in search of prey, sometimes covering as much as 3.6 miles (5.8 kilometers) in a single twenty-four-hour period. It spends its days in shallow burrows. Interestingly, this species doesn't maintain a constant body temperature during the day. Instead, its body becomes cooler or warmer with the temperature of the sand around it. In breeding season, the females will crawl into deeper tunnels that may lie 6 feet (1.8 meters) or more beneath the surface, where it gives birth to and raises typically one or two offspring. As soon as the youngsters are old enough to survive alone, the mother forces them out of her nest. Although details about behavior are lacking, scientists believe that males may mate with more than one female, and therefore father numerous young with different females. Outside of breeding season, adult moles live alone and have little contact with other adults.
Grant's desert golden moles and people: Since this is a desert species that lives in sand dunes away from most people, it has little impact on humans.
Conservation status: The IUCN lists the Grant's golden mole as Vulnerable. Dune removal and diamond mining are destroying the habitat within the limited range of this animal, but efforts are under way to create a national park, which will protect at least part of the mole's range. ∎
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Apps, P. Smithers' Mammals of Southern Africa. Cape Town, South Africa: Struik Publishers, 2000.
Kingdon, J. The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1997.
Nowak, R. M. Walker's Mammals of the World Online. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/walkers_mammals_of_the_world/insectivora/insectivora.chrysochloridae.eremitalpa.html (accessed on July 1, 2004).
Smithers, R. H. N. The Mammals of the Southern African Subregion. Pretoria, South Africa: University of Pretoria, 1983.
"Insectivore Specialist Group 1996, Eremitalpa granti." 2003 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. http://www.redlist.org (accessed on July 1, 2004).
"A Mammal that Imitates Reptiles." Clive Cowley's Journey into Namibia: Namibia Guidebook #12.http://www.orusovo.com/guidebook/content8.htm (accessed on July 1, 2004).