By Charlotte Owen
Moles spend almost their entire lives underground, leaving tell-tale mounds of soil to mark their passage but otherwise remaining elusive. Sightings are understandably rare but in the last few weeks I’ve seen more moles than ever before – sadly, all of them dead. The most likely culprit is the weather, and the heat wave seems to have hit the mole population particularly hard. The ground is baked solid and becoming impenetrable, even to such expert tunnelers, while food is increasingly scarce as earthworms and other soft-bodied invertebrates delve deep in search of cooler, damper soil.
A mole can prepare for drought to a certain extent by ensuring its permanent burrow system has plenty of extra-deep tunnels. As well as being a safe retreat from the heat, these tunnels function as a giant pitfall trap to collect unsuspecting worms, centipedes and beetles as they make their way through the soil. Rather than actively hunting down its prey, all the resident mole has to do is make regular patrols of its underground labyrinth to gather in the harvest. As the sun beats down and the ground dries out, moles simply move deeper to follow their prey and stay ahead of the advancing dry-front. But sometimes even their deepest tunnels aren’t deep enough and without a ready supply of juicy food, which also provides a vital source of moisture, hungry moles are vulnerable to dehydration as well as starvation. When even their deepest tunnels are baked solid, moles are forced to the surface in a desperate search for sustenance, hopeful that a little patch of damp ground can be found under a log or rock - but many of them don’t make it. The one positive to come of a sad situation is the rare opportunity for a close look at these velvet-coated creatures, so perfectly adapted for a life underground.
Eventually it will rain and the moles will rejoice, along with the hedgehogs, badgers and birds that are struggling in these conditions too. In the meantime, they will be grateful for a shallow dish of water and some extra food while the hot, dry weather continues.