Gunning’s golden mole (Neamblysomus gunning) is the highest ranking EDGE species of the enigmatic golden moles, an ancient group of subterranean mammals. The golden moles are aptly named for their fur, which despite varying in colour from yellow to black, usually has an iridescent sheen of coppery gold, purple, green or bronze.
Gunning’s golden mole is highly specialised for an underground lifestyle: it has large claws on its short, powerful forelegs, a wedge-shaped head, and no external tail or ears. It also has five webbed digits on its back feet which it uses to shove the soil behind as it digs. Digging through soil can be quiet challenging for a mammal and this species has evolved incredible ways to protect itself. Their eyes are covered with skin and their noses are pink and tapered with a leather pad to protect the nostrils. They also have two layers of fur, an outer, moisture proof layer of guard hairs, and an insulating woolly underlayer.
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. Unlike true moles, golden moles do not push soil up into mounds, but rather create conspicuous ridges of soil above their tunnel systems. 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 their young. They are thought to be most active at night, coming to the surface after heavy rains to feast on earthworms and insects.
This species is endemic to South Africa and only occurs in a few locations over a small area in Limpopo province. Because it is so localized, this animal is particularly vulnerable to human activities. Sadly privatization and development of its habitat are a very real threat to this endangered species.
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