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Friday, Oct. 26, 2001
By ROWAN HOOPER
* Japanese name:Azuma mogera * Scientific name:Mogera wogura * Description: A small, mouselike animal, 12-16 cm long, with short, thick, black fur. Small eyes and ears are hidden under the fur (the eyes may protrude in moments of pain or alarm). If your cat brings a mole to your doorstep, the features that really distinguish it from a mouse are the gigantic, heavily clawed front paws. * Where to find them: Lawns, parks, flower beds, gardens and fields. There is a population in the Imperial Palace Garden in Tokyo. Moles dig two types of tunnels: shallow, surface tunnels that push up a small ridge of turf, as if the animal were moving under a carpet; and deeper tunnels. When a mole is tunneling deeply, the soil has to be excavated -- and this is how molehills are formed. Lesser moles live for about three years and give birth in spring, deep in a burrow, to three or four naked babies. They don't hibernate. * Food: Insects, larvae, earthworms, slugs, snails. Moles have big appetites, sometimes eating a third of their body weight daily. * Special features: Zuni American Indians have animal guardians for the six directions (north, south, east, west, up and down), and the mole, being well adapted to life underground, is the guardian of "down." Moles' fur can lie in any direction, enabling them to rotate and move backward in tunnels with no problem. They are almost blind, but they have highly sensitive noses and acute hearing. They can also pick up vibrations with their tails. But the most radical adaptations are in the forelegs. The front paws of moles are permanently turned outward, like a pair of oars. The mole "swims" through the soil, moving its front legs in a breaststroke motion, while pushing with the back legs. In humans and most other mammals, the clavicle (collarbone) joins to the scapula (shoulder blade), but in moles it joins directly to the bone of the upper arm. This gives moles their neckless appearance, but also gives them immense digging power: They can dig at up to 4.5 meters per hour. Sometimes you can hear the noise of roots breaking as a mole digs underground. Unfortunately, little is known of their sexual behavior.