Moles are small mammals noted for their ability to burrow and dig intricate tunnels. They are found on every continent except Antarctica, and they live anywhere that they can dig tunnels. Moles typically have long snouts and small, short bodies. Given how widespread they are as well as their small stature and the “pest” status that is often attached to them, it’s not surprising to hear the question “are moles rodents” being asked about them.
In this article, we’ll learn about rodents and find out whether moles share their characteristics. We’ll also discover what is unique about moles, including how they are perfectly adapted to their subterranean lifestyle and why they are not quite the pests that people think. We’ll also learn what they eat and how they catch their prey. So join us as we discover whether moles really are rodents!
What makes a Rodent?
Rodents are unique mammals from the order Rodentia which is the largest order of mammals and contains more than 2,000 species. Most (although not all) rodents have stocky bodies, short limbs, and long tails. They are extremely adaptable and live in a wide variety of habitats – including deserts, rainforests, grasslands, and swamps. They are found virtually everywhere in the world except Antarctica. Most rodents are herbivorous, although some are omnivores and eat insects and other small animals. However, it’s not just the typical rats and mice, which are rodents. Other rodents include beavers, squirrels, porcupines, capybaras, chinchillas, chipmunks, and voles.
The main defining feature of rodents is their teeth. All rodents have large, powerful incisor teeth which grow continually throughout their lives. A unique feature of these teeth is that they are always sharp because of what they are made from and how they move against each other as the animal chews. Their teeth are self-sharpening. Rodents must spend much of their time chewing and gnawing on various materials to prevent their ever-growing teeth from becoming too long for their mouths. As they chew, the softer dentin on the rear of their incisors wears away quicker than the tough enamel which coats the front. This creates a chisel-shaped tooth and a super sharp edge.
Many rodents also have surprisingly orange teeth, but it’s not because of tooth decay. Instead, it is because their teeth contain iron compounds which make them even stronger and more durable but also cause them to be rust-colored in the process.
Are Moles Rodents?
Moles are not rodents. They are not related to rodents and are from completely different orders and family groups. Moles have different teeth and a different diet. They live almost entirely underground and are perfectly adapted to their lifestyle. They are expert diggers and can dig up to 160 feet in one night alone.
What Family do Moles belong to?
Moles are not members of the Rodentia order. Instead, they are members of Eulipotyphla, which include hedgehogs, shrews, desmans, and moonrats. There are around 42 species of moles worldwide, and they are all members of the Talpidae family group, which includes shrew moles and desmans. Members of the Talpidae family are all noted for their digging ability. They are all characterized by their small, cylindrical bodies, tubular snouts, and dark fur. They also all have fairly small eyes and poor eyesight.
As moles are not rodents, they have different teeth. Most species of moles have 44 teeth. They don’t have the constantly growing teeth, which are the main defining feature of rodents. Instead, they have twelve incisors that are long and blade-like. Their upper incisors are larger than the lower ones. Moles have canine teeth, which rodents lack. They have four canine teeth, sharp and pointy, and the lower canines are larger than the upper ones. Moles also have “dilambodont” molar teeth which have two “V” shaped ridges on them.
The moles’ teeth are uniquely adapted for their diet and are geared toward cutting and chewing prey. While most rodents are herbivorous, moles most definitely are not. The main diet of moles is earthworms which they eat in great quantities. However, they also eat slugs, snails, spiders, grubs, beetles, larvae, and other small insects. As moles use a lot of energy while burrowing through the dirt and soil, they need to eat a lot to sustain themselves. Moles can eat up to 75% of their own body weight every day. They even often have a larder in their network of tunnels where they store hundreds, even thousands of earthworms for later meals.
Moles have a subterranean lifestyle and spend most of their time underground, where they burrow their way through the earth while digging an intricate network of tunnels. Although it might often seem as though moles are digging just for the sake of it, they are actually incredibly intelligent and industrious. The main purpose of their tunnels is to create a “worm trap” so that worms fall into the tunnel where the mole can detect and eat them.
Moles are particularly well adapted to their habitat and lifestyle as they have short, powerful front legs with clawed front feet that have extra thumbs to aid them while digging. The oxygen levels in the tunnels are usually low. However, it poses no problem to moles as they can also cope with much higher carbon dioxide levels than other animals. Additionally, they use the oxygen more effectively by reusing air that they have already exhaled.
Although moles are often considered to be pests, they can actually be extremely beneficial to the environment. This is because they aerate the soil as well as fertilize it and mix in the nutrients. Although moles often get the blame for eating plant roots, they are actually innocent and eat the worms and grubs which do eat the roots.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/juefraphoto
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