Van Zyl’s Golden Mole

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 by CapeNature

van zyl's golden mole

Van Zyl’s golden mole
Van Zyl se gouemol

Cryptochloris zyli

Critically Endangered

The golden mole family, which consists of 18 species, is endemic to the African continent. They are all very similar in appearance with their streamlined bodies which are, in most species, covered with dense, glossy fur. Their ears, eyes and tail are not externally visible and on their snout there is a horny, leathery pad which is used together with their well-developed forelimbs for burrowing. Van Zyl’s golden mole is a small mole with a total length of about 80 mm, and differs from the one other species in the same genus, Winton’s golden mole, in that it is darker brown, with a purplish sheen. It occurs in the same area as Grant’s golden mole and the Cape golden mole, but is more glossy than the former. Although more similar to the Cape golden mole, Van Zyl’s has a relatively better developed first finger on the front limb and is also smaller and lighter in colour. The second upper incisor, canine and third incisor are similar in size in Van Zyl’s and Grant’s golden mole, whereas in the Cape golden mole the second incisor is markedly larger than the other two teeth.

Very little is known about the habitat preferences of Van Zyl’s golden mole, but generally, they live in shallow tunnels in sandy soils in temperate Succulent Karoo strandveld. Two of the three museum specimens were apparently found at an altitude of approximately 30 m.

Very little is known about the golden moles in general because they spend almost their entire life underground. According to the museum records, this species has only been collected three times by the same person, Gideon Van Zyl, in the same area along the West Coast during 1937 to 1938. Golden moles feed on small invertebrates such as insects and earthworms, as well as some small, legless lizards. Two, but sometimes only one, young are born hairless and helpless in a grass-lined cavity in the ground during the rainy season.

They are only known from one locality along the West Coast approximately 16 km inland from Lambert’s Bay at Compagnies Drift.

The main threat to this species is thought to be habitat loss through poor land management, overgrazing, crop cultivation, improper irrigation and mining.

As long as it is awake, a golden mole keeps moving. The movement keeps its body temperature normal. If the mole stays still for too long, its temperature falls quickly. Sleeping would be hazardous if it weren’t for the fact that its muscles twitch while it is asleep. This produces the necessary heat to help stabilize its body temperature. Van Zyl’s golden mole often plays dead when first picked up or turned over.

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