Steve Gronert Ellerhoff
Reaktion Books Ltd, £12.95

Steve Ellerhoff has produced a charming and often fascinating review of how the mole fits into our lives. The initial chapters deal with mole evolution, their basic ecology and a review of the scientific studies on their lives. The evolutionary relationships of the 40 species of ‘true moles’, together with other distantly related species simply bearing the name ‘mole’, such as the golden moles, are examined comprehensively.

Towards the end of the book there is an informative evolutionary timeline that identifies key developments that have resulted in the modern species of mole. The review of the biology of how moles are adapted to a subterranean existence is very readable and covers such diverse topics as their feeding habits, including using their forepaws to squeeze soil from the guts of worms before consumption; their physiological adaptations to survive in a low O2, high CO2 environment; their paws, modified for digging with an extra flap of skin that acts as an extra ‘thumb’; and their heightened ability to sense information in an environment devoid of light.

In-depth consideration is also given to special adaptations of the star-nosed mole and golden moles, and briefly to marsupial moles, desmans and ‘moles in name only’. The chapter on the scientific investigation of moles highlights key scientists and their research in the field dating from the 12th century to recent times. More than half of the book is devoted to rather less scientific but nevertheless remarkably interesting accounts of how moles feature in myths, folklore, allegories, and literary and popular culture. Ellerhoff has brought together many diverse and interesting tales that are superbly retold and likely to capture the reader’s imagination such that each subsequent chapter becomes more and more absorbing.

Sadly, though, the mole is not loved by all, and the role of the mole hunter is explored too, including the various methods employed to remove or kill these subterranean mammals. Relevant and good-quality photographs, both colour and black and white, are used throughout, and while the bibliography is very selective there is an extensive reference list.
This very readable book is perfect for the amateur naturalist who has an interest in the many ways that moles interact with humans but doesn’t want to be overwhelmed with scientific detail.

Dr Alan Woollhead