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On the wikipedia article for moles, I found some remarkable assertions:

Because their saliva contains a toxin that can paralyze earthworms, moles are able to store their still-living prey for later consumption. They construct special underground "larders" for just this purpose; researchers have discovered such larders with over a thousand earthworms in them. Before eating earthworms, moles pull them between their squeezed paws to force the collected earth and dirt out of the worm's gut. [12]

Here the reference [12] is to David Attenborough's "the life of mammals", not exactly the research literature. One finds the same assertion elsewhere on the internet, but I have not found any particularly authoritative sources cited.

Is there documentation in the research literature of a mole larder with over 1000 earthworms? (For that matter, is there documentation in the research literature that mole larders exist at all?)

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    Attenborough's programmes (and accompanying book), whilst not primary literature, are extremely carefully and well researched. They're not a trash source. Mar 21 at 8:16
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    @JackAidley Absolutely true. However, it's not a very useful source to mention on Wikipedia either way. Mentioning an entire series as the source for a a paragraph is too broad. A specific episode could've been mentioned at least, narrowing it down to 1/10th of the original size.
    – Mast
    Mar 21 at 14:54

1 Answer 1

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You're asking two questions. First, do moles store earthworms for later consumption, and second, can these "larders" contain 1000 or more earthworms?

There's little reason to doubt that moles keep larders. Here's a quote from Funmilayo (1979):

Moles are known to store earthworms which MacDougal (1942) suggested were caught during hard frost. Evans (1948) speculated that the earthworms in stores were caught while crawling in the mole's tunnels, but Skoczeń (1961) emphasised that earthworm stores were associated with winter nests and were collected during digging in mild spells in autumn and winter.

The article also looks at the composition of the earthworms stored by moles in their burrows. Not every fortress contained a storeroom:

Fortresses examined in March and October, 1968 and in March and May 1969 did not contain earthworm stores indicating that wild moles did not lay stores at these periods. All the fortresses (N = 5) examined in February 1969 contained earthworms with healed, decapited and mutilated bodies which indicated that the injuries were inflicted earlier on when the stores were laid, presumably after October, 1968 when last unsuccessful search was made.

The total number of earthworms found in these stores is given as 325, i.e. an average of 65 per store. This is far below the number cited in the Wikipedia article, but the sample size in Funmilayo (1979) is too small to draw any conclusions as to that number's plausibility.

I couldn't find any reference for Attenborough's claim of a store with more than 1000 earthworms. However, there are earlier reports that suggest stores of several hundreds of earthworms do exist. Here is a quote from Dahl (1891):

At the beginning of the next winter, on Nov. 27, 1887, Herr Schröter again examined two burrows without finding stores. The next spring, however, after a prolonged and severe frost, there were found on April 8, 1888, in one of the burrows examined—

578 Earthworms ;

67 larvae of Hepialus lupulinus , L. ;

4 Cockchafer grubs ; and

3 larvae of Skip-jack Beetles.

A second burrow which was examined at the same time was likewise filled with a number of worms. At the commencement of the third winter, on Dec. 23, 1888, after a short slight frost, there were again no stores found. But on March 12, 1889, after a severe and long-continued frost, we found in the first barrow 550 earthworms, and the rest of the burrows exposed also contained large food-stores.

Apparently, store size depends on the conditions: after prolonged winters with considerable frost are right, it seems that most burrows will contain large earthworm stores, and the reports suggest that it's easy to find some containing 500 and more specimens. Given these numbers, I have no doubt that a larder with more than 1000 earthworms is possible under the right conditions. All you need may be a particularly long winter and an environment particularly rich in earthworms inhabited by a particularly diligent and particularly toxic mole.

TL;DR:

The store-keeping behavior of moles is well attested. I've found reports of stores containing almost 600 earthworms, and larger numbers seem fully plausible.

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    Given these numbers, it seems "on the order of a thousand" is a literature-supported rule-of-thumb. I could easily see that becoming the "over a thousand" quoted due to sloppy script writing.
    – Bear
    Mar 21 at 14:17
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    "...containing 500 and more species..." -- I am pretty sure you were looking for a different word there; "creatures" or "organisms" or somesuch. Your quoted list above lists just 4 species...
    – DevSolar
    Mar 21 at 17:06
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    @Schmuddi: "Specimens"... that was the word that was eluding me just then. :-D
    – DevSolar
    Mar 21 at 19:18
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    @user3067860: The first study reports that indeed, most of the earthworms were still alive: "The healed injuries showed that the pre-storage biting by moles will not normally kill the earthworms, the only two dead members of the stores being uninjured". The paper also reports the preferred consumption method (small earthworms first, starting from the head end and rejecting the gut contents). Here's a link to the PDF if you want to know more details. "
    – Schmuddi
    Mar 21 at 22:56
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    I tried to resist. "and particularly toxic mole." Or, 'toxic molesculinity'... Mar 22 at 16:06

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