Marley’s Golden Mole
(Amblysomus marleyi)
Golden moles are so-called from their family name, Chrysochloridae, derived from the Greek terms for “gold” and “pale green”. This refers to the iridescent sheen of coppery gold, green, purple or bronze on their fur. Despite resembling true moles in appearance, golden moles are in fact more closely related to an ancient group of African mammals which includes the elephants, sea cows, hyraxes, aardvark, sengis and tenrecs. Marley’s golden mole is known from just two locations in South Africa. Overgrazing and poor agricultural practices by growing low-income subsistence farming communities have, and continue to lead to habitat degradation throughout the range of this species. The species has a highly localised distribution, which makes it particularly vulnerable to these threats.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Research is needed to search for other populations in intermediate areas, and to quantify threats faced by this species.
South Africa, possibly Swaziland.
A lowered metabolism and efficient renal function reduce water requirements to the extent that most species of golden mole do not need drinking water.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Afrosoricida
Family: Chrysochloridae
Golden moles are not related to the moles, from which they gain their common name, but rather to a group of African mammals, known as the Afrotheria. This ancient radiation of African mammals includes seven groups of animals thought to have shared a common ancestor 100 million years ago. These animals have little superficial resemblance to each other. The elephants, sea cows, and hyraxes; the aardvark and sengis (or elephant-shrews) all belong to the Afrotheria, along with the tenrecs, to whom golden-moles are most closely related.

Divergence between golden-moles and tenrecs probably occurred about 50 million years ago, with the result that the two groups are now morphologically very distinct.
Head-tail: 120 - 170 mm (golden moles)
Weight: 85 - 142 g (golden moles)
Although not closely related, golden moles resemble true mole in appearance. They have a compact, streamlined body and a shiny coat of dense golden fur. Marley’s golden mole is well adapted to life underground. Its short powerful forelimbs possess pick-like claws and it has a smooth leathery pad on the end of its nose, which is used to push through the soil. Its nostrils are protected under a fold of skin at the front of its long snout and the eyes, which are not used, are covered with a layer of skin. The ears are small and hidden in the fur.
Golden moles spend most of their lives underground. They use sound rather than sight to locate their prey, which consists primarily of insect larvae and earthworms. Golden moles reach these creatures by pushing through the sandy soil just below the ground. They use the upward thrust of their wedge-shaped heads, together with powerful down thrusts of the foreclaws, to tunnel through the soil, creating raised ridges of soil that are visible above ground. They create two types of burrow system: tunnels close to the surface that are used for foraging and deeper tunnels that are used for resting and raising young. Adults are thought to be solitary, nocturnal and like other species of golden mole, are probably territorial.
Occurs in moist grasslands and indigenous forests in the Natal Lowveld Bushveld and Lebombo Arid-Mountain Bushveld. This species also occurs in gardens.
Endemic to South Africa. It is known from only two isolated localities (Ubombo and Ingwavuma) on the eastern slopes of Lebombo Mountains in KwaZulu-Natal. However, putative remains of this species found in owl pellets 250 km to the southwest of its known range suggest that it may be more widespread, possibly extending into southeastern Swaziland.
Population Estimate
Population Trend
Classified as Endangered (EN B1ab(iii,iv)) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
Threatened primarily by habitat degradation resulting from overgrazing by cattle, the collection of firewood by local subsistence communities and urbanisation (in the Ubombo district). Predation by domestic pets, and possible pesticide contamination in areas adjoining agricultural estates, are more localised threats.
Conservation Underway
Although Marley’s golden mole occurs in the protected Pongola Wilderness Area, there are currently no targeted conservation measures in place for this species.
Conservation Proposed
Further research into the distribution and threats facing this species is needed so that appropriate conservation action can be taken. In particular, efforts should be made to verify evidence additional populations may occur along the Lebombo Mountains into southeastern Swaziland.
Bronner, G. 2008. Amblysomus marleyi. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.3. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 12 September 2010.

IUCN-SSC Afrotheria Specialist Group (September, 2010)

Macdonald, D.W. 2006. The Encyclopedia of Mammals. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

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