Beware of the bumps.

With the snow finally gone, hidden hazards have now reappeared to trip up walkers. Mole holes are those possibly perilous raised ridges that crisscross trails, yards and gardens, and give way when you step on them just right.

The animals that made them have been active all winter and will soon be beginning their mating rituals next month. On the Island, the eastern mole is the culprit, though two other varieties can be blamed off-Island.

Moles have not been bestowed with the best of reputations. The Bible described them, along with weasels, mice, tortoises, ferrets, chameleons, and snails, as “creeping things that creep on the earth.”

William Buckland, English theologian whose claim to fame was “eating his way through the animal kingdom,” did not mince words, even if he likely minced garlic to flavor his wild feasts. He contended “mole meat tastes vile,” and suggested that only the bluebottle fly was as distasteful as mole!

In an effort to get rid of these so-called vermin, Queen Alexandra, wife of Edward VII, ordered a mole fur garment in the hopes of starting a fashion craze so that mole would be hunted and their pesky populations reduced.

While her plan did not succeed, mole pelts were popular because of their soft and supple leather, but more so because of their short, dense, velvety fur which provides no resistance in either direction. This characteristic is a great quality to have since moles go both forward and backwards in their tunnels.

Alexandra’s predecessor on the English throne, William 3rd, was the cause of one of the few admiring references to moles in history: the Highland Scots, who detested William, paid honor to the mole who made a hole that caused his horse to tumble, resulting in a fatal collarbone injury for the king. The Scots would raise their glasses in a toast of barely-concealed reference “to the little gentleman in the black velvet waistcoat.”

The little gentleman is well suited for its subterranean lifestyle. In the dark tunnels, there isn’t much to see, so moles have small, inconspicuous eyes with fused eyelids and can only sense darkness and light.

Their hearing, however, is acute; they can detect their insectivorous prey and will rush through the tunnel to eat or even collect their meal for later consumption. Mole saliva has a toxin that can paralyze prey, and they will transport and store these live, but immobile foodstuffs in a larder among their burrows.

Two types of tunnels support this underground lifestyle. The ones we see (and sink into) are shallow feeding tunnels, while deeper tunnels (up to a foot down) contain their dens and larders. Both tunnels can often be oxygen poor and carbon dioxide rich. No problem for moles, which can tolerate these extremes due to a special protein in their blood cells.

However, what really matters to the mole’s fossorial lifestyle is their digging aptitude. The name mole comes from an old English word meaning “earth thrower.” To accomplish the excavation of their tunnels, a great deal of dirt is displaced. One estimate has a mole mining 18 feet of passageways per hour. Specialized paws are the key, with moles having webbing between their toes and an extra thumb. This trait, described as polydactyl, gives our quarrying companions just what they need to succeed down below. In the mole’s case, the extra thumb is a single-jointed offshoot, extruded from their wrist bone.

With all of their unique features, it is difficult to get angry with the makers of those terrible tunnels in your garden and hard to be annoyed when you sink into their peculiar passageways — as long as you don’t twist an ankle.  If you don’t, resist the urge to be irritated, think of how your soil is being aerated and fertilized, and remember not to make a mountain out of a molehill.

Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown, and author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature.