American Shrew Mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii)
This smallest of the American moles looks about like how I imagine Mole in The Wind in the Willows: gray, chubby, soft, and blind. The American shrew mole lives in the northwestern United States and southwestern Canada, from British Columbia to central California. The moles zip around in “runways” or trenches that they dig on the earth’s surface, just below the fallen leaves covering the ground. They also make the more classic kind of burrow, too.
American shrew moles only sleep one to eight minutes at a time—but they’re only awake between two and 18 minutes straight. (I picture them running along beneath the leaves and suddenly dropping in their tracks for a little snooze, then starting up just where they left off again. I don’t know if that’s accurate, though.) They use their noses to help them hunt in a rather methodical way. They’ll tap-tap-tap their nose on the ground in front of them, then turn their head to the right and tap-tap-tap again, then to the left with a tap-tap-tap, then take a step forward and repeat the process. They keep doing this until their nose touches a delicious earthworm, which they proceed to devour.
We don’t have this kind of mole in the Northeast, as you say (just the exceptionally odd star-nose and the more familiar Eastern…both of whom can use those weird paddle feet to swim, not just dig, despite their mainly underground existence).
As for the shrew mole, or anything with “shrew” in its name, I keep wondering why the word for “a bad-tempered or overly aggressive woman” is in their name. Hmmm…
By the way, my cat kills a lot of moles but will never eat one, not one bite, bringing them home whole in the hopes of receiving praise.
Thanks for visiting! I love the star-nosed mole. I remember there was a picture of it in a science textbook I had as a kid, and I never could figure out how that nose worked. This shrew mole is also a good swimmer! I guess that skill would come in handy for moles in case their burrows flooded, if nothing else.
I was thinking about the derogatory use of the word “shrew,” too. I wonder if we’d even still have that word if it weren’t for Shakespeare. I think part of why it’s stuck around is the sound of it. It’s kind of chewy to say.
Does your cat get praise? And what do you do with the moles?
Northwest America??? I have at least 100 in my backyard here in Missouri!!!!!!! I know, my cat finds and digs them up, plays with them until dead, and leaves them on the patio each morning. Today we woke up with two! A total of about 30 by now I believe.
Shannan, how nice of your cat! But I would venture that it’s a different kind of mole you’re seeing, most likely the eastern mole. They look pretty similar to the shrew mole, actually.
Shrews were some other insectivoras. They are morphologicallly more primitive (than most moles). The cat didn’t eat the moles because the mole smells.
By the way, can anyone send me some picture of the American shrew mole? That would be greatful!
The pictures I found through internet are not clear.