Thursday, August 09, 2007

It's A Vole, Not A Mole

There is a plague of topillos covering much of central Spain this summer. It doesn't seem very Biblical, they sound far less threatening than locusts for example, but the little beasts are steadily munching their way through a high proportion of crops in Castilla and Leon; and the menace is still spreading. So what is the difference between a topo (mole) and a topillo? That was the question I put to a couple of Spanish people I know last weekend. The answers I got were not very convincing, suggesting that it's been a while since the last plague. Having seen a picture of one in the paper, I didn't really buy the suggestion that the topillo was just a smaller version of the topo, it looked too mouse like. Fortunately there is always Wikipedia, and given that there are thankfully still no conspiracy theories concerning the common vole, the online encyclopaedia contains a decent account of Microtus Arvalis. Nothing to do with blind Mr. Mole at all.

All the farmers in the affected areas are currently clamouring for the use of poison to deal with the plague, presumably any subsequent ecological consequences are entirely accidental. They are also starting to use “controlled” burning of fields to try and hold back the advance of the vole army; which doesn’t strike me as being very wise considering how dry much of Spain tends to be at this time of year. Anyway, now its time to play spot the connection, and the key word for today is poison. Because voles are not the only victims of poisoning in this part of the country. If you take a look at the Wikipedia article I have linked to, you will see that el topillo has quite a distinguished list of predators. The problem is that those who seek to keep natural predators out of the hunting grounds of Castilla and Leon make frequent use of poison to kill them all off. One bad decision breeds another, and maybe the idea that the plague results from an unusually warm winter is just a poisonous rumour?

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