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Hairy-tailed Mole
(Parascalops breweri Bachman)

From: Saunders, D. A. 1988. Adirondack Mammals. State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry. 216pp.

Order: Insectivora

Family: Talpidae

Description: The common name of the hairy-tailed mole is apt. Its tail is approximately 30 mm (1.2 in) long, thick, tapered, slightly constricted at the base, and covered with coarse brownish- black hairs. This species averages about 157 mm (6.2 in) in total length, and may weigh as much as 63-65 g (2.2 oz). The fur is black or blackish-brown and has a purplish-brown sheen. The hairy-tailed mole lacks the fleshy nasal tentacles of the star-nosed mole, but both possess fossorial specializations, e.g., minute eyes covered by fur; an absence of external ears; short, directionless fur, tapered snout, the lateral, crescent-shaped nostrils at the tip and opening upward; short limbs, and a nearly cylindrical body. Most distinctive are the front feet that are modified for digging, and in the hairy-tailed mole, are broad, almost round in shape, and armed with short, stout claws.

Range and Habitat: The range extends from southeastern Canada, throughout most of the northeastern U.S., south and west into North Carolina and Ohio. Soils, rather than plant communities, determine its distribution in the Adirondack Park and elsewhere. Its occurrence coincides with the presence of dry to moist, but never wet, sandy loams. The upper limit of its elevation range in the Adirondacks is poorly documented, but approximates 915 m (3000 ft).

The permanent home is a system of interconnecting tunnels 25-45 mm (1.0-1.8 in) in diameter and 25-56 cm (10-22 in) that it excavates below the ground’s surface. A mole enlarges portions of tunnels, and in these chambers, builds one or more nests from dried leaves and grasses. Winter nests are 15-20 cm (6-8 in) in diameter.

Food and Feeding Behavior: Deep tunnels are just one example of the excavations of the hairy-tailed mole. It is constantly churning through the soil, tearing and pushing aside soil particles with the powerful, shovel like front feet, continuously mining soil invertebrates which constitute its diet. When foraging near the surface, the mole pushes the soil upward, creating the characteristic ridges or mole runs.

Earthworms make up 30% of its prey, insect larvae and pupae an equal amount. Adult insects, snails, slugs, sowbugs, millipedes, and centipedes provide the remainder. The hairy-tailed mole uses its highly-developed sense of touch and smell to locate prey, catching some of these animals on the surface - a feeding strategy it is more likely to adopt at night - and the rest in the top layers of soil and plant debris.

Activity and Movement: Bouts sleeping and resting, in which the mole tucks its head under its body, alternate with activities such as foraging. During the winter, hairy-tailed moles remain active, confining their movement to tunnels below the frostline. Although daily activity rhythms are little known, the species appears to be more active during the day, somewhat less at night. Surface travel is normally clumsy and slow, about 9 m (30 ft) per minute; occasionally faster. The hairy-tailed mole excavates deep tunnels, and then loosens soil particles with one front foot at a time. The mole then pushes loose soil under its body with the front feet, kicking the soil backwards with the hind feet. By shoving the residual piles to the surface with the front feet, the hairy-tailed mole cleans the tunnel and creates a characteristic molehill, 15 cm (3 in) deep.

Reproduction: Hairy-tailed moles mate in late March or early April. Four to six weeks later, the females bear a litter of four or five young in underground nests made from dry leaves and grass packed into an enlarged chamber. Each nests is about 15-16 cm (5.9-6.3 in) in diameter, and at least 30 cm (11.8 in) below the surface of the ground. At birth, the young moles are nearly hairless, their eyes closed. They grow rapidly and are weaned at 30 days of age when they are nearly full-grown. They begin to disperse from the nest at this age, but do not become sexually mature until the following spring, at an age of 10 months. Longevity for this species is four to five years.

Predators:  Raptors such as the barred owl and broad-winged hawk, and larger mammals are potential predators of the hairy-tailed mole. Even smaller mammals such as the short-tailed shrew may prey upon nestlings. However, the opossum, red fox, barn owl, and bullfrog are the only confirmed predators of this species.

Social Behavior:

  • Social System -  The hairy-tailed mole is probably promiscuous, but the type of bonds or their absence among breeding adults in unknown. The species is solitary with each adult occupying a home range of 15-24 m (49-79 ft) in diameter. At the onset of the breeding season, males leave their tunnel systems to search for and enter those of the females. During the summer, the home range of adults of both sexes and juveniles overlap to varying degrees. At peak populations, as many as 25-30 individuals may live within a single hectare (10-20 per ac). The average density is close to three per hectare.
  • Communication -  Tactile, chemical, and vocal cues are the primary means by which hairy-tailed moles interact, the channels of communication one would expect for a nearly blind, soil-dwelling mammal. Vocalizations include a variety of harsh, guttural to quiet “squeaks”, their context and function largely unknown. Numerous glands on the chin, throat, wrist, and abdomen, produce a yellowish substance that has a strong odor and stains the skin and ventral fur, especially that of males. These glands are most active during the breeding season, but their role in regulating social encounters is not known. Perineal glands are also present and are likely sources of chemicals that convey information about an individual and influence social organization

Additional References 

Eadie, W.R. 1939. A contribution to the biology of Parascalops breweri. Journal of Mammalogy, 20:150-173.

Hallet, J.G. 1978. Parascalops breweri. Mammalian Species, 98:1 - 4


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