Species Profile

Townsend's Mole

Scientific Name: Scapanus townsendii
Taxonomy Group: Mammals
COSEWIC Range: British Columbia
COSEWIC Assessment Date and Status Change: November 2014
COSEWIC Status: Endangered
COSEWIC Status Criteria: B1ab(iii)+2ab(iii)
COSEWIC Reason for Designation: This species is the largest mole in North America, and in Canada is found in just a 50 km2 area in the Fraser Valley of southwestern British Columbia. This species is restricted to certain soil types, and its limited dispersal abilities make it highly vulnerable to habitat fragmentation. Threats to the population include agricultural practices and trapping by pest control agents and by property owners. The habitat has been degraded through fragmentation, conversion from pasture land to berry farms, and urbanization.
COSEWIC History of Status Designation: Designated Threatened in April 1996. Status re-examined and designated Endangered in May 2003 and November 2014.
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Endangered
Date of Listing (yyyy-mm-dd): 2005-01-12

Please note that this information is provided for general information purposes only. For the most up to date and accurate list of species listed under the Species at Risk Act, please see the Justice Laws Website.

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Quick Links: | Photo | Description | Distribution and Population | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | Recovery Initiatives | Recovery Team | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Townsend's Mole

Townsend's Mole Photo 1

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Description

The Townsend's Mole is the largest North American mole.  It has a cylindrical body covered with velvety dark grey to black fur.  The fur is unusual in its ability to bend easily in any direction, enabling the mole to go backwards in tight tunnels.  Its front feet are broad and flat with five strong, straight claws for digging; the palms face outwards.  The hind feet are small with short claws.  The snout, feet, and tail of the Townsend’s Mole are pink with very little fur.  Its small eyes are able to detect light, but not images.  The Townsend’s Mole lacks external ears, but it does have acute hearing as well as a well-developed sense of touch.  Adults vary in length from 179 to 237 mm, including the tail.  The average weight for the Townsend’s Mole is 138 g for males, and 114 g for females.   The Coast Mole closely resembles the Townsend’s Mole, but is considerably smaller with an average length of 162 mm.  

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Distribution and Population

The Townsend's Mole is found in the United States from northwestern California, along the coastal regions of Oregon and Washington, reaching the extreme northern limit of its range in southwestern British Columbia.  It is restricted to about 20 km² in the central Fraser Valley ­­— giving the Townsend’s Mole one of the smallest distributions of any mammal found in Canada.   This population consists of fewer than 500 mature individuals and is adjacent to a small population in the United States.  Specimens collected since 1927, and fieldwork done in 2001 and 2002, indicate that the population is likely stable.

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Habitat

Townsend’s Moles are adapted for digging, spending most of their lives underground.  They typically inhabit lowland areas such as pastures, farmland, and lawns, usually in medium-textured silt loam soil with good humus content.  They are also found in open forests and light sandy soils.   The habitat of the Townsend’s Mole in the Central Fraser Valley is characterized by a mild climate similar to locations in Washington and Oregon where the mole persists.  

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Biology

Townsend’s Moles are solitary and territorial creatures that are seldom seen above ground.  They create a network of different types of tunnels that may be up to 100 m long; longer tunnels are required in lower-quality habitat.  Tunnels that are 10 to 20 cm below the surface are used for travelling around the territory, while those in the top 10 cm are used for feeding.  Townsend’s Moles feed primarily on earthworms, but also eat other soil invertebrates and some plant matter.  They have few natural predators.   There is no information available about the daily activity pattern of the Townsend’s Mole, but it is probably similar to that of the Coast Mole, which has an eight-hour rhythm characterized by four hours of activity followed by four hours of rest.   Townsend’s Moles excavate special nesting chambers and line them with grasses.  Young are born in late spring and remain in the nest for 30 to 36 days.  They become sexually mature the following winter, and have one litter per year.  The average litter size is three, and Townsend’s Moles typically live about three years, resulting in only nine offspring per pair.  This is much lower than most small mammals.   This relatively low reproductive rate makes the Townsend’s Mole slow to recover from population declines.  Furthermore, if Townsend’s Moles are removed from an area, or are killed by flooding, it is possible that Coast Moles would repopulate the area.   In British Columbia, this species is also limited by climate and available suitable habitat.   

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Threats

The primary threats to the Townsend’s Mole are from trapping by pest removal companies and property owners, who do not always distinguish Townsend’s Moles from more common moles.  Molehills cause damage to farm machinery and livestock, and the moles themselves eat some types of crops, leading some homeowners and farmers to view moles as pests.  

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Protection

Federal Protection

The Townsend's Mole is protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA). More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

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Recovery Initiatives

Status of Recovery Planning

Recovery Strategies :

Name Recovery Strategy for the Townsend’s Mole (Scapanus townsendii) in Canada
Status First posting on SAR registry

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Recovery Team

Townsend's Mole Recovery Team

  • Sylvia Letay - Chair/Contact - Government of BC
    Phone: 604-582-5290  Fax: 604-930-7119  Send Email

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Recovery Progress and Activities

Summary of Progress to Date The Townsend’s Mole recovery team aims to maintain the current population of Townsend’s Moles in British Columbia and to increase connectivity with populations in adjacent Washington State. Summary of Research/Monitoring Activities Data from museum specimens and surveys indicate that the range for Townsend’s Moles in Canada has remained stable; further research and the establishment of a monitoring program should help clarify the population size and trend. The recovery team hopes to study the interaction between the Townsend’s Mole and the related Coast Mole to determine if competition from the Coast Mole limits the Townsend’s Mole’s population size or range. With its small population, the Townsend’s Mole in Canada likely depends on connectivity to populations in the United States. However, a survey conducted in 2002 suggests that there may not be a healthy Townsend’s Mole population on the American side of the border adjacent to the Canadian population. Further research will determine whether there are, in fact, Townsend’s Moles near the international border and the likelihood of transboundary movements. Summary of Recovery Activities Most of the Townsend’s Mole’s range in Canada occurs on private land. Because its distribution is so small, the recovery team aims to contact all landowners within its range. Moles are typically maligned species, and previous publications did not distinguish between the endangered Townsend’s Mole and the more common Coastal Mole. Therefore, mole trapping on agricultural lands, golf courses, gardens and lawns may result in incidental capture of the Townsend’s Mole. Through outreach activities, the recovery team hopes to increase landowner awareness about this endangered species and provide options for maintaining mole habitat. The recovery team aims to develop a protocol for transplanting Townsend’s Moles from sites that are threatened by human development to sites with suitable habitat.

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

12 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC assessment and update status report on Townsend's mole Scapanus townsendi in Canada (2003-12-22)

    There are six species of moles in Canada. The two found in British Columbia are townsend's mole (Scapanus townsendi) and the coast mole (S. orarius), both restricted to the Lower Mainland.
  • COSEWIC Status Appraisal Summary on the Townsend's Mole Scapanus townsendii in Canada (2015-11-20)

    This species is the largest mole in North America, and in Canada is found in just a 50 km2 area in the Fraser Valley of southwestern British Columbia. This species is restricted to certain soil types, and its limited dispersal abilities make it highly vulnerable to habitat fragmentation. Threats to the population include agricultural practices and trapping by pest control agents and by property owners. The habitat has been degraded through fragmentation, conversion from pasture land to berry farms, and urbanization.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Townsend's Mole (2015-12-23)

    This species is the largest mole in North America, and in Canada is found in just a 50 km2 area in the Fraser Valley of southwestern British Columbia. This species is restricted to certain soil types, and its limited dispersal abilities make it highly vulnerable to habitat fragmentation. Threats to the population include agricultural practices and trapping by pest control agents and by property owners. The habitat has been degraded through fragmentation, conversion from pasture land to berry farms, and urbanization.
  • Response Statements - Townsend's Mole (2004-04-21)

    A response statement is a communications document that identifies how the Minister of the Environment intends to respond to the assessment of a wildlife species by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The document provides a start to the listing and recovery process for those species identified as being at risk, and provides timelines for action to the extent possible.

Recovery Strategies

  • Recovery Strategy for the Townsend’s Mole (Scapanus townsendii) in Canada (2016-07-06)

    The Minister of the Environment is the competent minister for the recovery of the Townsend’s Mole and has prepared the federal component of this recovery strategy (Part 1), as per section 37 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the British Columbia Ministry of Environment. SARA section 44 allows the Minister to adopt all or part of an existing plan for the species if it meets the requirements under SARA for content (sub-sections 41(1) or (2)). The British Columbia Ministry of Environment and Environment Canada cooperated in the development of the attached provincial recovery strategy for the Townsend’s Mole (Part 2).

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (2004-04-21)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of wildlife species done pursuant to subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The purpose of SARA is to prevent wildlife species from being extirpated or becoming extinct, to provide for the recovery of wildlife species that are extirpated, endangered or threatened as a result of human activity and to manage species of special concern to prevent them from becoming endangered or threatened.
  • Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act (volume 139, number 2, 2005) (2005-01-12)

    Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk of the Species at Risk Act (SARA), is amended by Order of the Governor in Council (GIC), on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, by the addition of 73 species. This Order is based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and follows consultations with provincial and territorial governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the public, and analysis of costs and benefits to Canadians.
  • Order Extending the Time for the Assessment of the Status of Wildlife Species (2006-06-14)

    The time provided for the assessment of the status of the wildlife species set out in the schedule is extended for 3 years from the day on which section 14 of the Species at Risk Act comes into force.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2014-2015 (2015-11-20)

    Under Canada’s Species at Risk Act (SARA), the foremost function of COSEWIC is to "assess the status of each wildlife species considered by COSEWIC to be at risk and, as part of the assessment, identify existing and potential threats to the species". COSEWIC held two Wildlife Species Assessment Meetings in this reporting year (October, 2014 to September, 2015) from November 23 to November 28, 2014 and from April 27 to May 1, 2015. During the current reporting period, COSEWIC assessed the status or reviewed the classification of 56 wildlife species. The wildlife species assessment results for the 2014-2015 reporting period include the following: Extinct: 0 Extirpated: 1 Endangered: 21 Threatened: 11 Special Concern: 21 Data Deficient: 1 Not at Risk: 1 Total: 56 Of the 56 wildlife species examined, COSEWIC reviewed the classification of 40 that had been previously assessed. The review of classification for 24 of those wildlife species resulted in a confirmation of the same risk status as the previous assessment.

Permits and Related Agreements

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species Under the Species At Risk Act: March 2004 (2004-03-03)

    The Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003 as part of its strategy for the protection of wildlife species at risk. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, hereinafter referred to as the 'SARA list'. Canadians are invited to comment on whether all or some of the species included in this document should be added to the SARA list.

Recovery Document Posting Plans

  • Environment and Climate Change Canada's Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan (2016-07-06)

    Environment and Climate Change Canada’s Three-Year Recovery Document Posting Plan identifies the species for which recovery documents will be posted each fiscal year starting in 2014-2015. Posting this three year plan on the Species at Risk Public Registry is intended to provide transparency to partners, stakeholders, and the public about Environment and Climate Change Canada’s plan to develop and post these proposed recovery strategies and management plans. However, both the number of documents and the particular species that are posted in a given year may change slightly due to a variety of circumstances. Last update December 2, 2021
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