While moles are a very rare sight, the results of their enthusiastic excavations are all the more common. These underground mammals are fast diggers and can dig up to 15 meters of tunnel in an hour. Every now and then they poke their nose above ground, to the intense despair of many a gardener. They particularly enjoy snacking on invertebrates like rainworms and insect larvae. Why they live on animals without a skeleton is told in the following German fairy tale:
In the middle ages there was a Count Mole of the Deeps. This short fat man was a strange sight with his pale face and long pink nose poking out above his black fur coat. The Count was so greedy that he did not even heat his castle in winter. He was also famous because he always tried to pay as little as possible for goods and services rendered. At the same time, he collected more taxes than he gave to his king.
For an entire year he got one butcher to deliver meat without paying him a cent. Finally, the poor man threatened the Count: “I will not be bringing you any more meat, if I don’t get my money right now!” Yet again he found himself standing outside the entrance to the castle with a pile of unpaid invoices in his hand. The greedy Count ordered him to wait and went back inside. After a while he returned with a barrowload of bones and gristle left over from chops and chicken bones. “You told me you had delivered a certain quantity of meat,” sneered the miser, “but that’s a lie. You tricked me. Bones aren’t meat. Subtract the weight of these bones from the total, because I am only paying you for the meat I have eaten.”
The next year the Knight had his meat delivered by a different butcher. Once again he refused to pay for the bones of the chickens and the pigs. For the next five years this miser managed to cheat on various butchers from nearby villages. When they discovered that one after the other had fallen victim to his trickery, they put their heads together. “It’s an absolute disgrace that he’s been cheating us like this. We’re going to get our own back,” they decided unanimously. They were so angry about Count Mole of the Deeps’ boundless greed, that they expressed the desire to humiliate the nobleman. Relishing the idea of this, one of them cried out: “I want to turn him into an animal that can only live on tasteless rainworms and lice, animals without bones!” And before he could say Jack Robinson, his wish was granted. The greedy Count had turned into a small black furry animal. Now he could only eat animals without skeletons. The enchanted Count was so ashamed by his humiliating metamorphosis that he wished that the earth would open up and swallow him. This wish was granted too. Ever since that day the Count lives underground. Now and then he feels nostalgic about his former life as a human being and digs his way up to the surface and takes a look up at the sky and the fields. Regrettably, this pleasure can only be short-lived, because there is always a stoat or a bird of prey looking out for a tasty little mole to snack on. That is why we very rarely see his long pink nose poking up above the earth mounds.
Moles are small mammals, barely 20 cm long which can live to be anything between 3 and 7 years old. They have a black fur coat, a long pink snout and strong pink feet to dig with. They are solitary creatures which live underground within their territory which may have tunnels of up to 60 meters long. Moles are very useful animals: not only do they eat a lot of larvae, but they also improve the quality of the soil as they churn it. They are continually circulating around their tunnels devowering any rainworms, beatles and larvae which might drop down into them. Underground their only risks are droughts and floods. Above ground there are countless small preditors, animals and birds, which hunt them. Young moles have to find their own territory once they leave their nest. They do this above ground and are then vulnerable prey for their enemies.
© Els Baars, Natuurverhalen.nl