Animal BOOK LOOK – Chapter 20 – Moles

Chapter 20


Scampering along on his way Peter Rabbit stubbed his toes. Yes indeed, Peter stubbed his toes on a little ridge where the surface of the ground had been raised a trifle since Peter had passed that way the day before.

Peter chuckled. “Now isn’t that funny?” he said to know one in particular because he was quite alone. Then he answered himself. “It certainly is,” he said. “Here I am on my way to learn something about Miner the Mole, and I trip over one of the little odd ridges he is forever making. It wasn’t here yesterday, so that means that he is at work right around here now. Well hello, I thought so!”

Peter had been looking along that little ridge and had discovered that it ended only a short distance from him. Now as he looked at it again, he saw the flat surface of the ground at the end of the ridge rising up as if being pushed from beneath, and the little ridge became longer. Peter understood perfectly. Out of sight beneath the surface Miner the Mole was at work. He was digging a tunnel, and that ridge was simply the roof to that tunnel. It was so near the surface of the ground that Miner simply pushed up the loose soil as he bored his way along, and this made the little ridge over which Peter had stumbled.

Peter watched a few minutes, then turned and scampered, lipperty-lipperty-lip, towards the Green Forest to gather with Mother Nature and the group of four-legged folks for another learning session. When he arrived he was a bit out of breath for having made haste to get there on time.

“Well, Peter,” she said . “Did you have a narrow escape on your way here? Or have you found something in your travels?”

Peter shook his head. “No,” he replied. “No, I didn’t have a narrow escape, however I did discover something.”

“What is it you discovered?” asked Mother Nature.

“That the very one we are to learn about today is only a little way from here this very minute. Miner the Mole is at work in the Green Meadow and close to the edge of the Green Forest,” Peter said eagerly. “I thought perhaps you would want to see his work in action.”

“Have this morning’s session right there where we can see his work would be grand,” Mother Nature agreed. “That sounds just fine, Peter,” Mother Nature said with a smile. “We will go over there at once. It is always better to see things in action whenever possible than to merely hear about them.”

So Peter led the way to where he had stumbled over that little ridge. It was longer than when he had left it and grew even as the others crowded about to look as the earth was pushed up. Mother Nature stooped and made a little hole in that ridge. Then she put her lips close to it and asked Miner to come out. She spoke softly and pleasantly so as to coax Miner from the hole she had made.

Almost at once a long, sharp nose was poked out of the little hole she had made, and a squeaky voice asked fretfully, “Do I have to come way out?”

“Yes please,” replied Mother Nature. “I want some of your friends and neighbors to get a good look at you, and they certainly can’t do that with only that sharp nose of yours to be seen. Now scramble out here if you please and no one will hurt you. I will keep you only for a few minutes. Then you can go back to your digging.”

Mole illustrated by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

While the others gathered in a little circle close about that hole there scrambled into view one of the oddest little fellows in all the Great World. Few of them had ever seen him close up before. He was a stout little fellow with the softest, thickest, gray coat imaginable. He was about six inches long and had a funny, short, pinkish-white, naked tail that at once reminded Peter of an angleworm.

His head seemed to be set directly on his shoulders, so that there was no neck worth mentioning. His nose was long and sharp and extended far beyond his mouth. Neither ears nor eyes were to be seen.

Striped Chipmunk at once wanted to know how Miner could see. “He doesn’t see as you do,” replied Mother Nature. “He has very small eyes, tiny things, which you might find if you should part the fur around them, and they are of use only to distinguish light from darkness. Miner hasn’t the least idea what any of you look like. You see, he spends his life under ground and of course has no use for eyes there. They would only be a nuisance, for the dirt would be continually getting in them if they were any larger than they are or were not protected as they are. If you should feel of Miner’s nose you would find it hard. That is because he uses it to bore with in the earth. And, just notice those hands of his!”

At once everybody looked at Miner’s hands. No one ever had seen such hands before. The arms were short and looked very strong. The hands also were rather short, however what they lacked in length they made up in width and they were armed with long, stout claws. The odd thing about them was the way he held them. He held them turned out. His hind feet were not much different from the hind feet of the Mouse family.

Miner was plainly uncomfortable. He wriggled about uneasily and it was very clear that he was there only because Mother Nature had asked him nicely to be there, and that the one thing he wanted most was to get back into his beloved ground. Mother Nature saw this and so she picked him up and placed him on the ground where there was no opening near.

“Now, Miner,” she said, “your friends and neighbors have had a good look at you, and I know just how uncomfortable you feel. There is only one thing more I’ll ask of you. It is that you will show us how you can dig. Johnny Chuck thinks he is a pretty good digger. Just show him what you can do.”

Miner didn’t wait to be told twice. The instant Mother Nature stopped speaking he began to push and bore into the earth with his sharp nose. One of those great, spadelike hands was slipped up past his face and the claws driven in beside his nose. Then it was swept back and the loosened earth with it. The other hand was used in the same way. It was quite plain to everybody why they were turned out in the way they were. There was nothing slow about the way Miner used that boring nose and those shoveling hands. Peter Rabbit had hardly time for half a dozen long breaths before Miner the Mole had disappeared.

“That was some digging!” exclaimed Peter.

“Never again as long as I live will I boast of my digging,” declared Johnny Chuck admiringly. From the point where Miner had entered the ground a little ridge was being pushed up, and they watched it grow surprisingly fast as the little worker under the sod pushed his tunnel along in the direction of his old tunnels. It was clear that he was in a hurry to get back to where he could work in peace.

“What an odd life,” exclaimed Happy Jack Squirrel. “I should think it would be awful living in the dark that way all the time and it couldn’t be much fun.”

“You forget that he cannot see as you can, and so he prefers the dark,” replied Mother Nature. “As for fun, he gets that in his work. He is called Miner because he lives in the ground and is always tunneling.

“What does he eat, the roots of plants?” asked Jumper the Hare.

Mother Nature shook her head. “A lot of people do think that,” she said, “and often Miner is charged with destroying growing crops, eating seed corn, etc. That is because his tunnels are found running along the rows of plants. The fact is Miner has simply been hunting for grubs and worms around the roots of those plants. He hasn’t touched the plants at all. I suspect that Danny Meadow Mouse or one of his cousins could explain who ate the seed corn and the young plants. They are rather fond of using Miner’s tunnels when he isn’t about.”

“The only harm Miner does is sometimes he tunnels so close to garden plants that he lets air in around the tender roots and they dry out,” continued Mother Nature. “His food consists mostly of worms, grubs and insects, and he has to have a great many to keep him alive. That is why he is so active. Those tunnels of his which seem to be without any plan are made in his search for food. He is especially fond of angleworms.”

“When you see his ridges you may know that his food is close to the surface. When in dry or cold weather the worms go deep in the ground, Miner follows and then there is no trace of his tunnels on the surface.”

“Night and day are all the same to him. He works and sleeps when he chooses. In winter he tunnels below the frost line. You all noticed how dense his fur is. That is so the sand cannot work down in it. His home is a snug nest of grass or leaves in a little chamber under the ground in which several tunnels offer easy means of escape in case of sudden danger.”

“Has Miner any near relatives?” asked Peter Rabbit.

“Several,” replied Mother Nature. “All are much alike in habits. One who lives a little farther north is called Brewer’s Mole or the Hairy-tailed Mole. His tail is a little longer than Miner’s and is covered with fine hair. The largest member of the family is the Oregon Mole of the Northwest. His coat is very dark and his fur extremely fine. His ways are much the same as those of Miner whom you have just met, excepting that when he is tunneling deep in the ground he pushes the earth to the surface after the manner of Grubby Gopher, and his mounds become a nuisance to farmers. When he is tunneling just under the surface he makes ridges exactly like these of his eastern cousin.”

Star-nosed Mole illustration by Louis Agassiz Fuertes

“The most interesting member of the Mole family is the Star-nosed Mole. He looks much like Miner with the exception of his nose and tail. His nose has a fringe of little fleshy points, twenty-two of them, like a many-pointed star. From this he gets his name. His tail is a little longer than Miner’s and is hairy. During the late fall and winter this becomes much enlarged.”

“This funny little fellow with the star-like nose is especially fond of moist places, swamps, damp meadows, and the banks of streams. He is not at all afraid of the water and is a good swimmer. Sometimes he may be seen swimming under the ice in winter. He is seldom found where the earth is dry. For that matter, none of the family are found in those sections where there are long, dry periods and the earth becomes baked and hard.”

“The fur of Miner and his cousins will lay in either direction, which keeps it smooth no matter whether the wearer is going forward or backward. Otherwise it would be badly mussed up most of the time.”

“Remember that the Shrews and the Moles both belong to the order of Insectivora, meaning eaters of insects, and are the only two families in that order.”

Following the prompts below draw, doodle, write, ponder, paint, color, and creatively capture your thoughts in your P.L.A.Y. Adventures nature journal!

  1. This chapter talks about shrews and moles. Have you heard of a vole? What is the difference between a vole and a mole? They are often confused by folks. Use Chapter 15 along with a little research to discover the mystery of which animal is actually called a vole. Bonus Nature Note: Moles with an “M” eat Meat and Voles with a “V” eat vegetation.
  2. Take a closer look at images of a Star-nosed Mole focusing on the fabulous nose. Now draw a new version of a mouse, mole or shrew and add one or two special features and explain what their uses would be specific to that animal.
  3. Visit this LINK at the Mass Audubon Society for more photos and information on moles.

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These tales are woven with fun facts and fiction featuring local four-legged and feathered friends in the fields and forests of New England.