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Ho-nee-um trail in the fall

Heinold, George
Mighty midget of mining,   pp. 7-10


Page 8

 
seed." Other naturalists of the era, including Witmer 
Stone and William Everett Cram, were in firm accord 
with Hornaday. Most recent naturalists, among them 
Wayne Barrett and George G. Goodwin, also champion 
the ground mole's cause. 
  Generally speaking, our American attitude is different. 
No country on earth spends more money than we do on 
such mole-exterminating devices as harpoon, choker or 
scissor-jaw traps, or such powerful poisons as carbon di- 
sulfide, cyanogen, or paradichlorobenzene. The most 
elaborate and costly mole-killing equipment I know of 
belongs to a man in one of my neighboring towns. He 
attaches a hose to the exhaust pipe of his Cadillac con- 
vertible, lets the engine run, sticks the other end of the 
hose in tunnels, and destroys moles by carbon monoxide 
asphyxiation. The great majority of us become perturbed 
by the ridges a mole creates as he tunnels just beneath 
the surface of our lawns, gardens, parks, or golf courses. 
We particularly dislike the hills which are formed when 
a mole pushes excess soil through the roof of his tunnels. 
Although it is the mice which invade his tunnels that 
destroy vegetables and bulbs which grow beneath the 
ground, most of us think the mole is the culprit. And so 
we continue to wage warfare against one of our chief 
benefactors. 
   Except for his valuable fur, our unappreciated friend 
is scarcely a thing of beauty. He is cylindrical in shape, 
has no visible neck, and his nearly-blind eyes are mere 
8 
slits. The snout of a mole isn't even as attractive as that 
of a rat, his inch-long tail is naked, and most of us would 
rather shake hands with a lobster than grasp one of his 
rough, oversized forepaws. But the fur of this tiny under- 
ground projectile is another matter entirely. "Moleskin", 
as it is referred to by furriers, has long been regarded by 
Europeans as one of the world's most elegant looking 
furs. It is used for evening wear, and has often been the 
garb of royalty. Moleskin looks well no matter how 
brushed, for it sets forward as well as backward. Because 
each skin is so small, about 300 would be required to 
make a full-length fur coat. The same type of garment 
can be made from about 50 mink pelts. 
  The mole has been following his labyrinthine subways 
for a long, long time. According to scientists, the little 
guy's ancestors heard the roars of the saber-toothed tiger 
and felt the tread of the dinosaur some fifty million years 
ago. Though the mole did not climb many rungs of evo- 
lution's ladder, he did manage to survive. 
  Poor eyesight. He has little need for keen eyesight - 
which is lucky because his eyes are nearly nonexistent 
and just about strong enough to distinguish between 
night and day. Except when evicted from his tunnels by 
such enemies as man, dogs, foxes or skunks, the only time 
I have ever known one to leave his element voluntarily 
is in the spring. His only reason for emerging above 
ground then is to gather dry leaves and dead grasses for 
the nest in which the young are born during March or 
April. 
  The common mole has one yearly litter of between 
three and six offspring, all of which are born completely 
blind, hairless and helpless. These tiny infants, which are 
about the size of a black-eyed pea, grow rapidly. By the 
end of two months they are nearly fully grown to six 
inches or slightly more. Some ten months later, with the 
coming of another spring, they themselves are ready to 
breed. The mole's active life is a short one, a maximum 
of three years, if he is lucky enough to die of old age. 
  As I have observed on a few occasions while studying 
them, moles which emerge topside to gather nesting ma- 
terial do so at great risk. Not being able to detect enemies 
because of their poor eyesight and minor sense of smell, 
they are completely at the mercy of any enemy capable 
of capturing and killing them. 
   One day, while seated with my back propped against 
the trunk of a large maple tree watching a mole search 
for nest grass, I caught sight of a shadow racing over the 
ground. Before I could look up, a diving hawk pounced 
on that hapless mole and air-lifted him swiftly away. At 
another time under similar circumstances it was a large 
black snake that caught the mole I was studying. And 
during still another the executioner, to my amazement, 
was a crow. 
   Tunnel fighter. I have good reason to suspect, how- 
ever, that the battles a mole wages against his larger 
enemies within the confines of his underground domain 
often end up differently. Though they are very small, hisj+ 


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