Sunday, January 31, 2016

What the cat dragged in ... Installment 1 - The Mole (WARNING ... biological content with graphic pictures)

Cats are great hunters, and regularly leave "gifts" in their owners home. We regularly receive such offerings. This topic, posted sporadically as per "the cat", explores the natural world by examining the bits and pieces found on the kitchen floor, whenever the great feline hunter shares his bounty with us. Warning ... Some of the pictures may occasionally be graphic, depending on the state in which the offering was presented to us.

Last night's presentation was an intact mole.

Moles are relatively ubiquitous, and are found in most parts of North America, Asia, and Europe. Despite being so common, relatively little is known about them because of their underground lifestyle. To support an underground lifestyle (technically known as "fossorial"), they have evolved interesting adaptations.

Physically, their eyes, ears, and hindlimbs have become reduced, since they aren't much use underground, while their forelimbs are proportionally large and powerful, to enhance digging. Since there is less oxygen available underground, moles have adapted to survive in low oxygen conditions, and are able to tolerate the very high levels of carbon dioxide that builds up in the tunnels. Contrary to popular belief, they do not hibernate, but merely dig deeper into the ground in winter.They do this because the worms and insects they eat also dig deeper in winter, to escape the cold conditions. In fact, they dig tunnels not only for transportation, but to trap worms. As worms dig through the earth, they fall into the mole's tunnel. The mole senses when a worm falls in the hole, then scurries down the tunnel to grab it. They have a mild venom in their saliva that allows them to paralyze the worms and save them for later. They even build special larder areas to use a pantry, and stock it full of paralyzed worms.

Although frequently considered pests because of their effect on lawns, they actually benefit areas by aerating the soil, providing fertilizer, and eating grubs. If uneaten by moles, grubs will eat the grass roots, weakening a lawn. And when grubs turn into beetles, they eat flowers and garden plants. Learning to live with and manage moles can actually benefit your lawn space.

I encourage you to understand your backyard habitat by observing and learning about the other creatures that live there!

If you really need to reduce (or control) moles in your yard, here are a few ideas that can help (other than cats and dogs):
1) reduce the grubs using aerator sandals or "beneficial nematodes" (buy at  garden store or online), 
2) 2::1 castor oil to dish soap (down the tunnels repels them) , 
3) put a rich (worm filled) compost area at the edge of your yard to lure the moles away form the garden and central yard
4) sonic devices that create annoying sound vibrations (electronic or mechanical devices can be purchased), 
5) block tunnels by interrupting tunnel with rocks or wire mesh (limited benefits for the effort), or 
6) trapping and be prepared to deal with repercussions of trapping the mole.