Mole communication holds some mysteries. Around 30 species of moles exist, adapting to a variety of habitats. Although many mole species are blind, some may discern light from dark and, despite the flaps over their ears, they have keen hearing. They make vocal sounds, but vibrations and smells may be the most important signals in mole communication.
Moles, classified as insectivorous, generally burrow tunnels near the surface. Insectivorous means their diet is based on insects. Most moles eat bugs and worms underground. Their tunnels leave piles of turned earth known as molehills. Although moles reduce problem insect and aerate the soil, many people consider moles pests because of the damage to lawns and gardens. Moles are built for digging; most of them spend nearly all their time in their tunnels. Their sensitive whiskers and noses help them find their way. Don't confuse moles with mole rats. Mole rats receive a great deal of research attention, including about how they communicate, but they aren't related to moles.
Certain mole species, particularly species that spend time above ground, make high-pitched sounds and have hearing adapted for high-pitched sounds. Immature star-nosed moles create high cries and the adults create wheezing noises, but the details of their communication abilities aren't fully known. The star-nosed mole, native to eastern North America, has tentacles on his nose. The creature likes to live near water and gets most of its food from aquatic sources, feasting on mollusks, fish and amphibians, according to the State University of New York. It's difficult to study their vocal communication because they don't make their sounds in captivity.
Other senses probably help moles perceive potential mates and food sources. Moles have scent glands that may play key roles in attracting mates. Female and male moles secrete scent from glands located at several points on their bodies. The odors can be particularly strong, and unpleasant to humans, at mating time. One of the most unusual theories about how moles use their senses involves the star-nosed mole. A star-nosed mole might find aquatic prey by sensing electrical signals, although further research is needed.
It's likely that the vibrations and sounds moles make moving underground play a part in communication. Because moles are often blind or have very poor eyesight, they don't use common communication tactics of other animals, such as visual cues to attract mates. The golden mole's iridescent fur, unlike colorful features in birds and mammals, isn't to attract the opposite sex but may be a side effect of fur that evolved to ease movement through tunnels. The iridescence results from the flat hair shafts, which suit burrowing, according to researchers from the United States and Australia.
- Animal Planet: Moles
- State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry: Star-Nosed Mole
- BioKIDS: Star-nosed Mole
- Animal Diversity Web: University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Scalopus Aquaticus Eastern Mole
- Animal Diversity Web: University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Scapanus Orarius Coast Mole
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Gryphon Adams began publishing in 1985. He contributed to the "San Francisco Chronicle" and "Dark Voices." Adams writes about a variety of topics, including teaching, floral design, landscaping and home furnishings. Adams is a certified health educator and a massage practitioner. He received his Master of Fine Arts at San Francisco State University.