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Natural History of the Mammalia of India and Ceylon - by Robert A. Sterndale F.R.G.S., F.Z.S. (1884)

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FAMILY TALPIDAE - THE MOLES

These animals have a small cylindrical body, very short arm attached to a large shoulder-blade, supported by a stout clavicle or collar-bone. The fore-feet are of great breadth, supported by the powerful muscles of the arm; the palm of the foot or hand is directed outwards or backwards, the lower edge being trenchant, with scarcely perceptible fingers armed with long, flat nails, strong and sharp, with which to tear up the ground and shovel the earth aside. The hind feet are small and weak in comparison, with slender claws. The head tapers to a point, the long snout being provided with a little bone which assists it in rooting, and the cervical muscles are very strong. The eyes are microscopical, and almost concealed in the fur. At one time it was a popular delusion that the mole was devoid of the power of sight, but this is not the case. The sense of hearing is extremely acute, and the tympanum is large, although externally there is no aural development. The tail is short, the fur set vertically in the skin, whence it is soft and velvety. The bones of the pubis do not join, and the young when produced are large. The mammć are six in number. The jaws are weak, the incisors are six above and eight below. The canines (false molars?) have two roots. There are four false molars above and three below, and three molars with pointed cusps.

Moles live principally on earth-worms, snails, and small insects, though they are also said to devour frogs and small birds. They are more common in Europe than in India, where the few known species are only to be found in hilly parts. I have, I think, procured them on the Satpura range some years ago, but I cannot speak positively to the fact at this lapse of time, as I had not then devoted much attention to the smaller mammalia, and it is possible that my supposed moles were a species of shrew.

They are seldom if ever trapped in India, for the simple reason that they are not considered worth trapping, and the destruction of moles in England has long been carried on in the same spirit of ignorance which led farmers, both there and in France, to destroy small birds wholesale, till they did themselves much injury by the multiplication of noxious insects. Moles, instead of being the farmers' foes, are the farmers' friends. Mr. Buckland in his notes to Gilbert White's 'Natural History of Selborne'(Macmillan's édition de luxe of 1876)—says: "After dinner we went round the sweetstuff and toy booths in the streets, and the vicar, my brother-in-law, the Rev. H. Gordon, of Harting, Petersfield, Hants, introduced me to a merchant of gingerbread nuts who was a great authority on moles. He tends cows for a contractor who keeps a great many of the animals to make concentrated milk for the navy. The moles are of great service; eat up the worms that eat the grass, and wherever the moles have been afterwards the grass grows there very luxuriantly. When the moles have eaten all the grubs and the worms in a certain space, they migrate to another, and repeat their gratuitous work. The grass where moles have been is always the best for cows." In another place he says: "M. Carl Vogt relates an instance of a landed proprietor in France who destroyed every mole upon his property. The next season his fields were ravaged with wire-worms, and his crops totally destroyed. He then purchased moles of his neighbours, and preserved them as his best friends."

The poor little despised mole has had its part to play in history. My readers may remember that William the Third's horse is supposed to have put his foot into a mole-pit, and that the king's death was hastened by the unconscious agency of "the little gentleman in black," who was so often toasted afterwards by the Jacobites.


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