Translated from Andreas Lampe’s "Interview mit einem Maulwurf" in Flora Garten 9|11
Hardly anyone gets to see him and yet almost everyone has an opinion about him. Because with his hills he transforms flat, painstakingly manicured lawns into a landscape of craters, he is anything but popular. Interested to learn more about the industrious burrowers in the ground, we asked the mole for an interview.
You lead a very secret life spending most of your time under the earth. Many people have never seen you. Also comparatively little is known about your family life. It is time to bring some light into the darkness.
A large part of my clan lives in North America; but we also have distant relatives in hot Australia. We can even be found in Japan. Those who know me call me Talpa europaea, or “Talpa” for short.
Are you really related to the voles, Mr. Talpa?
Pardon me! Voles are rodents. If you come closer to look at my ivories, what you see are 44 predator teeth -- made for hunting insects and worms, not for gnawing roots. I belong to the order of insect-eaters such as shrews, hedgehogs and bats.
And which insects are on your menu, Mr. Talpa?
Mainly, my diet consists of earthworms. They are easy to catch because they fall into my tunnels or I meet them while digging. If I catch more than I can eat at once, I put them into storage. I immobilize them with a deliberate bite then bring them to the pantry I dug. A feast for me is grubs, wire worms or larvae of the crane fly -- very protein-rich and juicy. Gardeners should thank me for that. Under them I clean up what are properly called pests.
Where does this ravenous hunger come from for a relatively small creature?
My high metabolism is to blame. I need to eat constantly -- about 50 grams a day. Imagine if every day you have to eat about half of your body weight. If I go any longer than eight hours without getting a worm between my teeth, it is the end of me.
Mr. Talpa, what immediately struck me about you is your incredibly large hands. Why are they necessary?
If you labor on a daily basis like I do you need a functional tool. My hands, like my entire body, are the result of thousands of years of adaptation to life underground. The anatomical details I will spare your readers. With my furry body lying close to the grave digging shovels I dig up to seven meters per hour. To dig the 3.3 km long New Elbtunnel I would have needed just three weeks. I will not flaunt it. But perhaps your readers are now less surprised when they look out their window in the morning and see a great number of my hills on what was their still flat lawn the evening before.
Can you tell us why you always push the earth up.
I dig a broad tunnel system 10 to 20 cm in depth, which often runs in circles. Only in the winter do I dig deeper. I follow my prey as they escape to soil in frost free regions. Anyone who has ever built a sand castle and dug a tunnel in it knows how much soil from excavation is produced. Of course, it must go somewhere. I push it while digging, not vertically, but obliquely upwards. The hills, that your kind get so worked up about, are therefore not directly above my passageways.
Why do you feel more comfortable in some gardens than in others?
I am especially pleased by a richly laid table. In loose, humus rich soils I find an almost paradisiacal state. Many earthworms live here. Furthermore, the digging is easy for me and I do not have to push up a hill every couple meters. In flowerbeds therefore, my hills do not often attract attention. Under highly compacted lawns, it looks quite different: The digging means hard work for me; more dirt must be transported to the surface more often. Fewer earthworms live here too so I must make longer tunnels. More and therefore also larger hills are by no means an indication that I am particularly enjoying myself. Quite the contrary.
They say you live as a committed bachelor.
Yes, that's right. I'm not a particularly social animal let alone a companionable partner. It is again my metabolism to blame - if one may speak of blame. It leaves me no rest for community or cuddly companionship. We moles are about as different as marmots or humans to their beloved dogs. We are solitary and territorial. I vigorously chase away members of my species who want to share my tunnels and a quasi-setting at my table. Only in the spring do other hormones take over the regiment. Females of our species smell simply irresistible. Shortly after mating, the romantic mood is ended. What is repaid then is only the food, digging for the females rearing their young.
Many people would rather not have you in or under their garden.
Yes, that's true unfortunately. Our lobby work is bad. Terms such as beneficial, soil impact, or even beauty and fascination are rarely associated with my kind. That's why I am also digging up your microphone. I would like to do advertising for the moles. I know that our hills on a manicured lawn do not look nice and it makes mowing difficult but, in my opinion, that does not justify the violence with which you react to us.
How, for example?
You flood my tunnels. More than a few moles drown miserably in their tunnels. Foul-smelling gas and stinking liquid manure, elderberry or garlic are used against me. You can imagine how it affects a creature with a nose as fine as mine. I must run away and relocate my place of residence -- at least for the moment. The worst are however, the killing traps. It is no longer allowed to set them; the Federal Nature Conservation Act and the Federal Species Protection Ordinance protect my life. Noise to me is beastly to the nerves. I have had to endure howling from bottles that have been put in my tunnel, or the beating of wooden pegs. Today, there are ultrasound devices. Usually I then push on into the garden, where the going gets quieter.
What do you wish for your future?
To me and my kind a long life, always plenty of worms in the tunnels and that people accept us at some point for what we are: fascinating, useful creatures and a part of their biota.
Mr. Talpa, we thank you for this interview!