Moles are small mammals from the family Talpidae and there are around 42 species worldwide. They are found on every continent except Antarctica and South America and live anywhere they can dig tunnels. They have a subterranean lifestyle and spend the majority of their time underground. Moles burrow and dig intricate tunnels in search of food and are widely regarded as pests. However, they’re actually extremely well adapted and unique animals. In fact, even their teeth are unique! Join us as we discover everything you need to know about mole teeth.
How Many Teeth Do Moles Have ?
Most species of moles have 44 teeth twelve incisors, four canines, sixteen premolars, and twelve molars.
Moles are small but extremely fascinating mammals. They have long snouts and clawed front feet that have extra thumbs to aid digging. Although they are small animals, moles have a surprising amount of teeth. Moles have heterodont teeth which means that – just like us humans – they have a range of different teeth that all have a different role. Their incisors are long and blade-like and the upper incisors are larger than the lower ones. However, with their canines the lower teeth are larger than the upper ones.
Moles have particularly unique cheek teeth too. Although many animals have premolars and molars which visually appear the same, these teeth are vastly different in moles. The premolars of moles are triangular shaped and have sharp points on them. Moles use their premolars for chewing and grinding their food.
However, the most complex teeth are the molars which are known as being dilambdodont. Dilambodont teeth usually have two “V” shaped ridges on them which – in the case of moles – makes it appear as a “W” shape. The first and second upper molars both have double ridges on them, giving the “W” shape. Despite this, the third upper molar is even more different. This is because the first part of the “W” is missing which produces an “N” shaped ridge instead. The points, also known as cusps, of both the upper and lower molars are sharp and pointed which makes them extremely well adapted to cutting and chewing prey.
Mogera Mole Teeth
Although there are 42 species of moles, they are spread out across 17 genera which means there are quite a few differences between them. Mogera is a genus of moles which accounts for nine different species across Japan, Korea, and eastern China. The main identifying features of Mogera moles is that they have one less pair of incisor teeth and larger premolars.
As Mogera moles have one pair of incisors less than most other moles they have ten incisors and 42 teeth in total. Compared to other moles, they are lacking a pair of incisors on their lower jaw – giving them six incisors on the top and four on the bottom. The last (or hind) premolars on each side are significantly larger than the rest of them. However, the first premolar is also still larger than the middle two.
Another type of moles that differ in their dental formula are shrew moles. Spanning four different genera, shrew moles are actually considered to be true moles, despite their name. Shrew moles get their name for their similarities to shrews and are generally considered to be “bridging the gap” between moles and shrews. Most shrew moles are similar in size to shrews and lack the specialized digging feet. They also spend quite a lot of their time above ground. Shrew moles, much like shrews, also have a lot less teeth. Generally, shrew moles only have 36 teeth – six upper and four lower incisors, four canines, six upper and four lower premolars, and twelve molars.
What Do Moles Use their Teeth for?
The main purpose that moles use their teeth for is obviously eating. Moles use a lot of energy burrowing through dirt and soil so they need to eat a lot to sustain themselves and can eat up to 75% of their bodyweight every day. Moles are insectivores which means they feed mainly on insects, worms, and other invertebrates. The main diet of a mole is earthworms which they eat in great quantities. However, they also eat slugs, snails, spiders, grubs, beetles, and larvae.
The main purpose of mole tunnels is to create a “worm trap” where the worms fall into the tunnel and the mole can detect them and eat them. However, moles also store earthworms too. In their network of tunnels they usually have a larder where they store hundreds, even thousands, of earthworms. Worms don’t escape because mole saliva paralyzes them, so they can be stored for later consumption.
In addition to the serious business of eating, male moles also use their teeth for fighting. Although moles are solitary animals and usually only socialise when mating, sometimes their territories overlap and other moles try to invade their space. Moles are fiercely territorial animals and males fight fiercely if they meet. Male moles use their canine teeth during the fight to maim or even kill their opponent.
Prehistoric Mole Teeth
Moles have been around for millions of years and the oldest moles date back to the late Eocene period, around 36 million years ago. Research suggests that early moles were not quite the burrowing creatures that we know today, but were in fact more closely related to shrew moles – spending more time above ground and not as adapted to digging. The same even goes for their teeth, with the early fossilized remains of Eotalpa anglica (widely regarded as the earliest mole) showing that they had approximately 36 teeth – just like the shrew moles around today. The upper molars were small, while the fourth premolar was particularly large and pointed.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Mark_Kostich/Shutterstock.com
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