Monday, January 28, 2008

Animal of the Week -- January 28, 2008

Hello Ani-freaks!

Go see a wonderful post-it comic featuring animals (and other things) called When Pigeons Weep, on Jan 16 there is a troglobyte!

This week's animal of the week is a bane of the lives those two guardian-occupations of the UK landscape: farmers and gardeners. Although these two groups of people are renowned for their compassion and tolerance towards wildlife, nothing gets their backs up so much as this week's animal Talpa europaea (European mole) -- well, except maybe mice, rats, mealy bugs, birds of prey, slugs, deer, pigeons, badgers, rooks, aphids, pheasants, cats, and vine weevils. And foxes.

Their habit of digging extensive underground tunnels terminating in small mounds of earth has pitted moles the world over against lawn-proud gardeners. But actually the moles' toils not only aerate and break up soil, but their prodigious consumption of leatherjackets and other pests of crops and garden plants are actually a benefit to people who work the land. And while they may eat those other great processors of soil, earthworms, they cannot consume enough to affect the latter's benefit to gardeners and farmers.

Immortalised in Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows as home-loving, timid fellows, moles may be nearly blind but they are voracious predators, consuming nearly two-thirds their own body weight a day in grubs and worms. They have toxic saliva that paralyses their invertebrate prey enabling them to build up a larder for lean times. It was a pondering about the nature of toxic mammals that started animal of the week some3 and a bit years ago, turns out loads of insectivorous mammals have toxic saliva.

Among all the crocodiles, mosquitoes, tigers, sharks, tyrannosaurs, and snakes that have been animal of the week, European moles are only the second to be blamed for the death of an English king. William III, of Orange, was out riding in the early 18th century when his horse trod in a mole tunnel and threw its rider. The resulting broken collarbone led to pneumonia (ED: can that happen? PH: ED, who is ED?), and the pneumonia led to the accession of Queen Anne, prior to which the Jacobites, hoping to seize the opportunity to reinstate a Scottish monarch, were commonly heard to toast "the little man in his velvet jacket". The other regicidal AOTW is, of course, the lamprey

Want to help people find out about moles? Join the People's Trust for Endangered Species in their MOLEWATCH. Report sighting of moles or more likely molehills here: Though not endangered, changing land use and increasing floods may threaten moles. When I was a kiddywink on the farm, if the river flooded the moles would gather on the small patches of unsubmerged ground, the dogs -- Goldie, Shelly, and Bella -- would like nothing more than unearthing the stranded moles. The carnage was a horrific sight. I am sorry moles. I couldn't stop it!

All the best!

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