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Ho-nee-um trail in the fall

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


Page 10

 
ported that they have known moles to tunnel a hundred 
and more yards during a period of twenty-four hours. 
One mole that I captured and released in different terri- 
tory completed a zigzag tunnel of thirty-seven yards dur- 
ing that space of time. I timed this one with the sweep- 
second hand of my wrist watch when I gave him his 
freedom. It took only eleven seconds to dig himself out 
of sight. In three minutes he had dug a tunnel fourteen 
inches long. 
  A friend of mine who is an enthusiastic golfer and an 
accomplished player has good reason to believe that a 
ground mole is a mighty digger. He was competing in 
an amateur tournament when, on the green of the third 
hole, he was required to make a long putt. He was in 
good form that day. The ball was rolling along smoothly 
and precisely on course for the cup when, about a foot 
short of its goal, the ground bulged enough so that it 
missed. That mole's life ended under the clouts of num- 
ber five all-purpose golf clubs. 
   "Oh, they were good enough to allow me the putt," he 
later told me. "But that nasty little pest unnerved me 
enough so that I wasn't any good for the rest of the game. 
You say that moles are beneficial to men? I say phooeyl" 
   I know of a social-minded young matron who gave an 
 evening lawn party in honor of her husband's boss who, 
 while circulating among her guests, felt her high French 
 heel sink into a newly-created mole tunnel. Startled, she 
 tried to extricate herself by swinging quickly about. That 
 mortified lady fell fiat on her face almost at the feet of 
 her husband's boss. Like my golfing friend, she will never 
 believe a kind word said in the defense of the ground 
 mole. 
   Enrich the soil. Regardless of their faults, ground moles 
 have for millions of years performed tasks which have 
 benefited more than they have harmed us. As these minia- 
 ture bulldozers in fur use their powerful forepaws to 
 follow their awl-like snouts in their constant pursuit of 
 food, they are enriching our soil and making it fertile. 
 Our priceless bottomlands would not be as productive 
 as they are if countless generations of moles had not dug 
their tunnels there. These runways help keep the soil 
from turning rancid by draining off excess rainfall, and 
they serve as miniature irrigation systems in dry pasture- 
lands, making it possible for the water to be evenly dis- 
tributed. Moles are also among our most valuable tillers 
of the soil. Their efforts bring subsurface soil to the top, 
where it mixes with decaying vegetation and other or- 
ganic material to create good loamy topsoil which pro- 
duces our bountiful crops of grain, vegetables, fruit and 
timber. And, without the diligent service of the moles in 
the control of insects, we might be using sprays power- 
ful enough to destroy the human race. 
  The industrious mole maintains two kinds of tunnels. 
The better known of these is, of course, the shallow type 
which all can see and from which he probably obtains 
most of his food during the warm months. His other 
tunnels are deeper, some of them more than two feet 
below. These he uses in cold weather, as well as during 
periods of droughts. 
  Although there are seven known species of moles dis- 
tributed across our country, of which the eight-inch West- 
ern or Oregon Townsend mole is the largest, there are 
no true moles in the far north. In the far north the ground 
freezes to too great a depth for moles to carry on their 
tunneling. Here they are replaced by shrews, our small- 
est mammals and relatives to the true moles. There is 
also an aquatic mole, the star-nosed mole of our norther- 
ly and middle states. This one lives in marshlands and 
around brooks and ponds, is capable of swimming and 
diving, and is reputed to be nearly as well-fitted for a 
life that is spent partly in the water as the mink and the 
otter. Ranging from southern Canada southward to the 
lowlands of Florida, the common ground mole has shown 
no signs of having learned to swim in all the water which 
exists around him. 
   Well-planned home. Although their eyesight is practi- 
 cally nil, common ground moles frequently safeguard 
 their dens and nurseries by building them underneath 
 boulders and stumps. On three occasions I have uncov- 
 ered mole burrows for examination. They are remarkably 
 well-planned, almost as well as those of woodchucks. All 
 three were situated about two feet below the surface. 
 Dome-shaped, from a foot to fourteen inches across at 
 bottom, and reached by a slanting tunnel, two of the 
 burrows I inspected had three small six-inch galleries 
 running off them. The third burrow, a deluxe model, 
 boasted four galleries. Considerably elevated with 
 mounded earth and located in a far corner, the nests of 
 all three burrows were lined with soft leaves and grasses. 
   Regardless of one's personal opinion, the ground mole, 
 for a little creature less than seven inches long in adult- 
hood, is truly remarkable little toiler as he virtually 
"swims" through the earth with his powerful breast stroke. 
In my opinion, the best description of his tunneling prow- 
ess was given by the naturalist Dr. Robert W. Hegner. 
Reporting on two moles, one of which dug 68 feet of 
tunnel in 25 hours and the other 100 yards in a single 
night, Dr. Hegner said, "To do a proportionate amount 
of digging a man would have to make a tunnel 50 miles 
long and large enough for him to crawl through." 
  The ground mole is indeed the mighty midget of the 
world of mining and tunneling.                       El 
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