Moles: profile, diet, molehills & hibernation


With a passion for growing installed at an early age, I have always been happiest outdoors in nature. After training as a professional gardener and horticultural therapist, I currently run horticultural therapy and community kitchen gardens in the UK, helping others access the many physical and mental health benefits of growing vegetables, fruit and plants.

Favourite fruit: apples and pears
Favourite vegetable: asparagus

While moles themselves are rarely seen, they make their presence known by the hills of soil they leave behind in our gardens. Read on to learn all about the subterranean mole, its diet, habitat and more.

Mole appearing through the soil
Being subterranean dwellers, moles are rarely seen above ground [Photo: tchara/]

Living in an underground complex of passages and tunnels, moles (Talpa europaea) are seldom seen above ground. However, you will know moles are present in your garden by the tell-tale molehills they leave behind on their travels. While some farmers and gardeners consider moles pests, the presence of moles can actually also be beneficial. Keep reading to find out more about the humble mole, including facts about its eyesight and why it tunnels.

Moles: size, appearance, diet and more

Moles are covered in a black, velvet-like fur that is omnidirectional, which means that it can lie in any direction. You might imagine moles are big animals due to the size of the hills they produce. However, a mole’s size is generally only around 13 to 16cm in length. Along with a pink nose and tiny eyes, moles have spade-like paws ideal for tunnelling. And what do moles eat? The answer is mainly worms (Lumbricus terrestris), with an adult mole consuming around 50g of worms per day. Thankfully though, since moles are insectivores, your plants and vegetables are safe. Moles generally live for around 3 years, but can live longer if predators are scarce. Although often thought of as nocturnal, moles are actually cathemeral, and are usually equally active during both day and night.

Close up of a mole
Moles are found throughout mainland Britain and the rest of Europe, but not Ireland [Photo: Miroslav Hlavko/]

While moles and molehills are a common sight in England, Scotland and Wales, they do not exist in Ireland. If you are concerned that moles are dangerous, you need not be. Even though moles have teeth and the ability to bite, it is highly unlikely that they will bite you unless you are handling them without gloves.

Are moles blind? 

Technically, no. However, they do have very poor eyesight. When it comes to their sight, scientists believe that moles are colour blind, but that they can differentiate between light and dark. Thankfully the mole’s heightened sense of touch more than makes up for their poor sight. Most mole species possess a dedicated sensory organ in their snout known as the Eimer’s organ. This Eimer’s organ contains special nerve fibres which help them feel their way around and paint a picture of their underground world.

Molehills and tunnels

Moles spend almost their entire lives underground at varying depths in a system of tunnels where they catch their prey and sleep. They can dig tunnels at an extraordinary rate, with reports of up to 20m a day being recorded. Moles tunnels are predominantly formed to help the moles catch food, and are found at various levels below the surface. However, it is thought that the deepest tunnels are used when temperatures are at their lowest, to store food, and during periods of drought. From time to time and especially when digging deeper tunnels, they push the excess soil up to ground level, forming up to 25-cm-high mounds of soil otherwise known as molehills.

Mole on top of grass
With spade-like paws, moles are adept at tunnelling [Photo: Rudmer Zwerver/]

Moles are predominantly solitary mammals. However, in spring, the male (boar) will tunnel further in search of a female (sow) to reproduce. Softly-lined nests are then formed within the tunnels and used to bear and raise their young.

Molehills are a common issue for many gardeners. Nevertheless, if possible, you should accept and welcome moles as a key part of your garden’s biodiversity. In fact, moles can even be beneficial to the garden as their tunnelling can help to aerate the soil and thus improve drainage.

Do moles hibernate?

Contrary to popular opinion, moles do not hibernate. Instead, it is thought that they go deeper into their tunnel systems to seek out food below the frozen ground and to feast upon supplies of half-dead worms that they have previously stored in special chambers. However, due to the shallower soil being harder to tunnel in winter, you may not see as many molehills as you do during the rest of the year, which gives the impression that the moles have gone into hibernation.

A worm in mole’s mouth
Worms make up the bulk of a mole’s diet [Photo: CezaryKorkosz/]

Unfortunately, moles can be destructive and their hills the blight of many a pristine lawn. You can learn more about getting rid of moles here in our separate article.

Subscribe to the Plantura newsletter