Townsend's Mole
Moles are harmless. Their teeth are so far back in the head it is difficult for them to bite you even if they wanted to. The photograph is courtesy of Washington State University.

Moles as Pets

by Paghat the Ratgirl

   

Jessica has a pet mole in the cool old vampire film Let's Scare Jessica To Death. Her pet comes to a sad end. In trial records of jolly old England, one finds that a woman owning a pet mole could well turn out to be punished by hanging, because such a pet was regarded as evidence of witchcraft.

I have a mole in the garden & like her a lot. We named her Mrs. Molesworth. She's a Pacific Coast mole who doesn't tunnel too much (Townsends can create dozens, even a hundred mole-hills, making them hated by many people for digging up gardens & lawns, though they don't really harm plants — but our Mrs. Molesworth has made few hills & two semi-hidden exits. She keeps the slugs & snails down in the yard & is in general a great asset to our woodland style gardens). I would never try to harm her for any reason, nor even to catch her alive, but it's fun to think of her as a kind of unseen pet who leaves sundry small evidences of her activities.

Moles make awful captive pets frankly, but some people do keep them in captivity, & the following notes are taken from various sources here & there.

Moles need to feel the walls of their primary environment, their tunnels. If this can be reproduced for them they can sometimes thrive in captivity, but they're not easy to clean or manage. When their bodies aren't "surrounded" by something they have a panic-response feeling exposed & endangered. They can literally die in one to three days from the constant nervousness from being exposed. They have to feel calm to eat well, & they need to eat almost hourly — skipping even one day of food could be all it takes to do them in, & newly captured moles generally die the first day both of terror & from going hours without food. Full grown adults would probably never adjust to captivity, they'd die of nervousness, but a newly independent juvenile can adjust to a really well prepared environment, & juveniles are usually the only sorts of moles dumb enough to get caught in the first place (adult moles are very clever at never entering live-traps).

They would prefer but don't necessarily require dirt for tunnels — they can survive in set-ups that look like large ant-farms with molded tunnels, the backside being openable to feed them & I catch them if necessarily. Because in the wild underground tunnels are not subject to extremes of temperature, moles do poorly if placed in an environment that gets too cold or too warm or with rapid changes in temperature, & sunlight can quickly kill them.

Though great swimmers, excessive moisture in their environment can kill them. Still, if it were possible to provide one with such an elaborate environment that it could even have a tunnel open into a swimming area, most moles, & especially the eastern mole, would be inclined to swim. Moles' fur is vastly softer than most furry animals. The Olympic mole is usually jet-black & soft as chinchilla, the Townsends can be either jet black or grey. Despite living underground the dirt seems not to adhere to them; they're quite clean.

Moles aren't tolerant of each other — two placed together will result in fights & death. Even in peoples' lawns there is usually only one mole at a time. Sometimes people think they have dozens of moles, but it's usually just one Townsend's mole that makes dozens of hills. When that one's killed, another moves in almost immediately from the surrounding vicinity, so they have to be continuously trapped or killed to control them, but it's still just one mole at any given moment because they just hate each other. The females beat the crap out of the males except when in heat, the males beat the crap out of each other, & the mothers beat the crap out of their own babies as soon as they are weaned. Their territoriality is extreme; they can tell from very far away if another mole has gotten into the tunnel, & will hurry to beat up intruders immediately.

The natural diet of large west-coast moles is worms supplemented with bugs & slugs. The eastern mole is more apt to eat half or more moth larvas & half or less earthworms. Moth larvae are available commercially, two kinds, "butter worms" and "wax worms" — which are not worms of course but moth caterpillars — the waxmoth larvae are best (butterworms smell bad). Very expensive to use as a primary diet, but it would be necessary to have a more than just earthworms. It will be difficult to catch enough worms to feed a mole because they are just terribly piggy — they can eat about two-thirds their weight in worms & bugs each day — a dozen large earthworms every day would be minimal — so you'd have to have an active worm-bin plus have in mind back-up sources so that if the worm-bin under produces, you can get worms quickly elsewhere. If you had to buy all the earthworms & the wax moth larvae, a mole would be a very expensive pet to feed. Some keepers pad out the diet with wet cat food though I don't know how wise that is. If you use no poisons in your garden, any slugs you can catch would do nicely. They'll even eat those big black beetles, so whatever you could find for variety would be a treat, since left in the wild they'd never eat just one or two sorts of things. They will also eat a few seed-pods, soft hominy corn, & funguses — but mostly insects, centipedes, moth & beetle larvae, & worms.

Delicate little shrew moles die quickly in captivity, but the gigantic Townsend's mole & the medium-sized Coast mole sometimes do well. Because they are such extraordinary pigs, they also poop a hell of a lot. Good garden poops worth using as fertilizer, but their environment really has to be very easily opened up for cleaning, which alas risks their nervousness response to intrusions & exposure.

Despite references to them being kept as pets, I suspect they were more only terrarium pets, not "hold & hug" pets, though that might not be out of the question. Since they're extremely crabby toward each they might be toward people too, but I don't know if they are; they're not known to bite kids or dogs even when captured, their teeth are too far back in their long mouths. I saw a nature shown in which moles didn't seem to mind being held around the midriff because it felt like a tunnel to them, the ones in the show seemed harmless, but for all I know they were too petrified to fight. The smallest insectivores are holy terrors & difficult to hold, but that didn't look to be true of larger moles.

The article above is mainly second-hand information; I've never personally attempted to keep a mole. Well, that's not quite true, when very small I took a young live mole away from a cat & attempted to keep it alive in a shoebox, feeding it cat food, but in a day or two it was dead, so that childhood experiment doesn't count. I'm sure from the advice I gleaned for this article, just about everyone will wisely decide not to try to keep a mole for a pet. But if you do seek to attempt such a thing,the following articles & one book, in the Reference section below, include useful information on moles in captivity. You will probably need to ask interlibrary loan for photocopies of the articles.

References:

R. Glendenning: "Biology & Control of the Coast Mole" in The Canadian Journal of Animal Science 39, pages 34-44, 1959.

A. Borroni, A. Loy & E. Capanna: "A Flexible Arrangement for the Study of Moles in Captivity" in Acta Theriologica 44:2, pages 207-14, 1999.

M. L. Gorman & D. R. Stone: The Natural History of Moles. Ithica, New York: Comstock Publishing, 1990.

You will also find over in The Garden of Paghat the Ratgirl an article on Our Friend the Mole.

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copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl