Physical characteristics

The typical talpid is a small, tube-shaped mammal with short, silky fur, and a narrow muzzle. The fossorial (burrowing) forms, which make up more than half the species in this family, have large, clawed hands specialized for digging, small or unseen eyes suited to their dark habitat, and fur that lies flat regardless of whether it is pointing backward or forward on the body. The aquatic and the terrestrial, surface-dwelling species lack the exaggerated forefeet, and some aquatic taxa have webbed or enlarged hind feet that propel them through the water.

Talpids also have distinctive short necks and limbs. The enlarged upper arm bone, or humerus, articulates with the col-

Phyical Chararistics The Hairles Mole
A star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata) emerging from its hole. (Photo by Rod Plank/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by perission.)
A European mole (Talpa europaea) storing earthworms. (Illustration by Patricia Ferrer)

The fossorial talpins exist in forests and/or fields with some opting for wet soils close to water, and a few, like the star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata), frequently leaving their tunnels for a swim. Besides the uropsilans, some species of the talpins, like the American shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii) are mainly surface dwellers. These uropsilan and talpin moles that live above ground commonly shun open spaces, instead scooting beneath leaf litter or under a log, but many are known to climb into shrubs and trees. Semi-aquatic species generally favor freshwater, although a few species, such as the Russian desman (Desmana moschata), will sometimes venture into brackish water.

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