Fires of Life by Barry Gordon Lovegrove;

Fires of Life by Barry Gordon Lovegrove;

Author:Barry Gordon Lovegrove; [Lovegrove, Barry Gordon]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: Yale University Press
Published: 2019-08-19T20:00:00+00:00

Figure 11.3. Grant’s golden mole, Erimitalpa granti, which inhabits the sand dunes of the Namib Desert. (Photo by and used with the kind permission of Galen Rathbun, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco)

Studying golden moles is not easy because they are hard to catch. They are every gardener’s nightmare, and they love to burrow a few centimeters (0.8 in) belowground in a newly sown veggie or flower patch. They are elusive and do not readily fall for live traps.

Then one day I got an email from Mike Scantlebury, who is British and currently works at Belfast University. Mike had a project going on golden moles (Amblysomus hottentotus) in the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. He assured me that he had “tons of willing student help” from the University of Pretoria to catch golden moles. Mike was collaborating there with Nigel Bennett, Africa’s crackerjack mole man. They were working on a golf course in a mutual agreement between the greenskeeper and themselves. I don’t live or work far from the Drakensbergs, so Mike wanted to know if I’d be interested in collaborating with them by doing the surgery required to implant the animals with miniature data-logging devices. What a silly question.

Golden moles do not respond well to being held in captivity, so we developed a modus operandi that minimized captivity time. I have to admit, Mike and his students worked supremely hard, day and night, checking their traps every hour or so. Once a mole had been caught, the game was on. I’d be called, at any hour of the day or night, and from then I had about an hour to get my surgery ready. I sent my students to the pet shop to get earthworms to feed the moles after surgery.

Over a period of several weeks, we caught and surgically implanted fourteen animals over two seasons and released them back into the burrows where they had been caught. We waited about four months and then launched the mission to recapture them. We caught two animals. That’s all, only two miserable animals, even with a massive investment of student effort and enthusiasm. But two animals were better than no animals at all, and, best still, both implanted devices produced high-quality and revealing, albeit starkly different, data.11

One mole exhibited no deviation from a constant average temperature of 33.9°C (93°F). The animal maintained this temperature for the entire thirteen weeks of measurement, exhibiting pure basoendothermy, not uncommon in subterranean mammals.12 If this had been the only animal that we had recaptured, we would undoubtedly have reached the conclusion that golden moles cannot hibernate. But the other animal exhibited bouts of true hibernation on four occasions, with the longest bout lasting five days (Figure 11.4).

Science is a funny thing. Strictly speaking, we had no right to publish these data. Our hypothesis had been simple: golden moles are hibernators. To test this hypothesis we needed to be 95 percent certain that this was the case; that’s the rule in science. This meant that if


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