Deserts are known to be harsh environments, testing even the most resilient animals. Yet one of the most adaptable is a creature that’s rarely seen. The golden mole is a small, burrowing animal that lives in Southern Africa and recently had a starring spot on David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II series. The species isn’t a true mole, rather a convergent family called Chrysochloridae.
The mole grows from 8 – 20cm, posessing short legs and powerful claws for digging. The mole is blind and relies on picking up vibrations through the earth to find its prey. They hunt during the night and can travel up to 6km in search of termites. The mole will listen for termite head-banging alarm signals which can’t be heard easily above ground, so they dip their heads into sand to listen.
Interestingly, golden moles don’t need to drink water to survive. They have efficient kidneys and if they fall into water they will likely drown. The species is capable of going into torpor when resting, meaning they’re able to conserve energy for hunting and burrowing. The mole lowers its core body temperature as an adaptation to weather.
Golden mole burrows are complex, split into foraging tunnels and deeper, permenant burrows. The latter may penetrate a metre below ground and include bolt-holes and latrine tunnels.
Breeding takes place throughout the year, with females giving birth to three hairless young. Courtship involves head-bobbing and foot stamping by the male and squealing vocalisation from females. Adults are solitary and burrowing territories will be aggressively defended from rivals. Moles fight each other by wrestling their opponent with their foreclaws and biting the abdomen.
Of the 21 species of golden mole, 11 are threatened with extinction. The De Winton’s golden mole is considered the most endangered, with the Giant, Marley’s and Gunning’s close behind. Causes include sand mining, urbanisation and poor agricultural practices.