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Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V18, Page 654 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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MOLE. (1) A small animal of the family Talpidae (see below). (2) A mark, or stain, and particularly a dark-coloured raised spot on the human skin. This word, O. Eng. mtl, appears in such forms as meil or mail, in old forms of Teutonic languages, and in mal, a sign; cf. Ger. Denkmal, a monument. It is probably cognate with Lat. maculus, spot. Its meaning of stain is seen in the corrupted form " iron-mould," properly " iron-mole," a stain produced on linen or cloth by rust or ink. (3) A large structure of rubble, stone or other material, used as a breakwater or pier (see BREAKWATER), or the space of water so enclosed, forming a harbour or anchorage. This word comes through the French from Lat. moles, a mass, large structure. The name of the " Mole of Hadrian " (moles Hadriani) is sometimes given to the mausoleum of that emperor, now the castle of St Angelo at Rome. In zoology the name of mole (a contracted form of mould-warp, i.e. mould-caster), is properly applicable to the common mole (Talpa europaea), a small, soft-furred, burrowing mammal, with minute eyes, and broad fossorial fore-feet, belonging to the order Insectivora and the family Talpidae. In a wider sense may be included under the same term the other Old World moles, the North American star-nosed and other moles, and the African golden moles of the family Chrysochloridae. In a still wider sense the name is applied to the Asiatic zokors and the African strand-moles, belonging to the order Rodentia, as well as to the Australian marsupial mole. The common mole is an animal about six inches in length, with a tail of one inch. The body is long and cylindrical, and, owing to the forward position of the front limbs, the head appears to rest between the shoulders; the muzzle is long and obtusely pointed, terminated by the nostrils, which are close together in front; the minute eye is almost hidden by the fur; the ear is without a conch, opening on a level with the surrounding skin; the fore-limbs are rather short and very muscular, terminating in broad, naked, shovel-shaped feet, the palms normally directed outwards, each with five sub-equal digits armed with strong flattened claws; the hind-feet, on the contrary, are long and narrow; and the toes are provided with slender claws. The body is densely covered with soft, erect, velvety fur—the hairs uniform in length and thickness, except on the muzzle and short tail, the former having some straight bristles on its sides, whilst the latter is clothed with longer and coarser hairs. The fur is generally black, with a more or less greyish tinge, or brownish-black, but various paler shades up to pure white have been observed. The food of the mole consists chiefly of earthworms, in pursuit of which it forms its well-known underground excavations. The mole is one of the most voracious of mammals, and, if deprived of food, is said to succumb in from ten to twelve hours. Almost any kind of flesh is eagerly devoured by captive moles, which have been seen, as if maddened by hunger, to attack animals nearly as large as themselves, such as birds, lizards, frogs, and even snakes; toads, however, they will not touch, and no form of vegetable food attracts their notice. If two moles be confined together without food, the weaker is invariably devoured by the stronger. Moles take readily to the water—in this respect, as well as in external form, resembling their North American representatives. Bruce, writing in 1793, remarks that he saw a mole paddling towards a small island in the Loch of Clunie, 18o yds. from land, on which he noticed molehills. The sexes come together about the second week in March, and the young—generally from four to six in number—which are brought forth in about six weeks, quickly attain their full size. Much misconception has prevailed with regard to the structure of the mole's " fortress," i.e. the large breeding hillock, which is generally placed in bushes, or amid the roots. of a tree; but a trust-worthy account, by Mr L. E. Adams, will be found in the Memoirs of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society for 1903, vol. xlvii., pt. 2. The geographical distribution of the mole exceeds that of all the other species of the genus taken together. It extends from England to Japan, and from the Dovre-Fjeld Mountains in Scandinavia and the Middle Dwina region in Russia to southern Europe and the southern slopes of the Himalaya, where it occurs at an elevation of Io,000 ft. In Great Britain it is found as far north as Caithness, but in Ireland and in the Western Isles of Scotland (except Mull) it is unknown. (See INSECTIVORA.) (G. E. D.; R. L.*)
End of Article: MOLE

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