Do you have a dog? If you answered yes, I like you 10 percent better than I otherwise would. I can’t imagine life without at least one dog. My wife and I have two. Roscoe is a roly-poly dachshund mix and pretty low-key. Penny is a hyperactive miniature pinscher mix. Actually, hyperactive isn’t really accurate. It’s more like she’s got her tail plugged into an electric outlet 18 hours a day.
One early evening a few years back, Diane and I were walking the dogs around the neighborhood. We were talking about something and getting very engaged in the conversation, so I didn’t notice Penny digging in the swale until she’d already gotten what she was after: A mole that had been burrowing along just below the grass.
Penny absolutely loves the blanket game (you terrier owners know the one — when you get into bed and your foot, sliding beneath the covers, becomes the funnest toy ever). I think that’s what she thought was going on, and I think she was as surprised as anyone to discover she’d actually caught something.
Fortunately, the mole didn’t squeak. If it had, I’m pretty sure she would have chomped it like one of her little plush toys, and the story would end very differently. Instead, she stood there delicately holding the squirming mole by the scruff, with a look on her face that very clearly spoke to the situation: What the heck is this, and what am I supposed to do now?
Belatedly realizing what was going on, I leapt into action. Before her deeply buried shake-and-kill instincts could take over, I reached out, grabbed the mole and told her to drop it. Penny is not the world’s most obedient dog, but she let go without hesitation — I’m guessing it was a relief, because now this weird thing was no longer her responsibility.
Mole in hand, I quickly formed a plan: Whip out my cellphone, snap a quick pic (but not a selfie; I was born a few years too early to be Millennial) and then release Mr. Mole back into his rudely interrupted burrow. I did manage to get my phone out of my pocket and wake it up, and the resulting photo is here for your viewing pleasure.
Why is it so crappy? Well … I had planned to take the time to get a good one, but that’s when the biting started.
It’s a little embarrassing to admit this, but up until that very moment, I didn’t realize moles had teeth. Actually, that’s not really true. To be more honest, I actively believed they had no teeth. In fact, I was quite sure of it. I don’t know where that bit of misinformation came from, but I quickly learned that it was incorrect.
Moles get a bum rap. Many homeowners get upset about their burrowing habits, but they’re actually great soil aerators. They do occasionally eat vegetable material, but the majority of their diet is invertebrates. Moles are really a friend to your lawn, if you can get past the sight of the pushed-up soil they leave behind as they burrow along. Earthworms are on the menu, but so are centipedes, slugs, beetle larvae (grubs) and pretty much any other bug they can catch.
They’re not rodents, nor even related to them, so they don’t have the big, bucktoothed incisors that rats and squirrels do. Their diet requires small, sharp teeth for holding wiggly and sometimes slimy prey. And boy, do they have plenty of sharp teeth, as the blood seeping from my multiply-punctured right index finger evidenced. I stared, feeling no pain, amazed.
No pain? Oh, nevermind — here it comes. Imagine stapling your finger six or seven times. My automatic reaction was to shake my hand, which I did, flinging the little biter loose. Fortunately for the mole, he landed in the soft dirt of his own burrow. And he knew just what to do, too. In less time than it takes to read it, he was gone — the speed was incredible. Watching him disappear into the soil was almost like watching a fish swim away.
We wrapped up the walk, me dripping a slow but steady trickle of blood onto the pavement. When we got home, I cleaned up with iodine and put on a bandage. Should I have seen a medical professional? Maybe, but moles are not social and have little contact with other mammals, so they’re highly unlikely to carry rabies. If you get bitten by any mammal, I strongly advise you to seek a professional. But I don’t always take my own advice.
Despite the temporary intense pain, the wounds healed quickly and left no scars. Like I said, the teeth are small. Except for the photo, I have no evidence of my humbling encounter with this little velvet-furred monster.
Fortunately, you can learn from my mistake. Take your pick from these morals: Nature is full of surprises. Any expert can be wrong. No matter how much you know (or think you know), there’s always more to learn. And painful lessons are the ones that really stick with you.
Josh Olive is a fifth-generation Cracker and Florida Master Naturalist, and has been fascinated by all sorts of wild things and places since he was able to walk. If you have questions about living with wildlife, email him at Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com. You can also follow him on Instagram @florida_is_wild.