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Moles and Their Control

The mole population has been growing steadily it seems for the 8 years, with no signs of abatement. Those of us that love our lawns detest the destructive mole because of the damage they cause. If moles would just stay the heck out of our lawns, we would probably thank this fascinating creature for all of its hard work…aeration…in our native prairies and woodland soils. Moles are voracious insectivores, and because they have a high metabolic rate, they’re always eating. They search for earthworms, not grubs, but will consume virtually any living critter that they come across while digging. Because moles are insectivores, not omnivores, this means that they DON’T EAT POISON “PEANUTS” or JUICY FRUIT® GUM! We wish those old wives tales would die a proper death. If your favorite nursery or garden center recommends such a silly practice, then you’re doing business with idiots. You can tell them we said so, too.

As with any garden-destroying-mammalian pest, vigilance on your part is imperative for control. Moles will feed 2 to 3 times per day. That means they’ll go hunting in their tunnels up to 3 times each day. While they’re tunneling near the soil surface they physically lift the sod, and as such, these are their “surface tunnels”. Moles will do their work at the depth where the earthworms are active. In really cold weather, and droughty weather, they’ll work deeper in the soil profile than in warmer weather. When moles are working deep they’re active in their subsurface tunnels (also known as “permanent tunnels”). Mounds of soil, called “molehills” are pushed to the surface of the ground when moles dig deep. The mole’s permanent tunnels are where set up their sleeping quarters, and they even have an “outhouse” for their poop.

Don’t set traps on top of a molehill, because all you will catch is “dirt”. The mole is physically pushing the soil up the tunnel, and that soil usually trips the trap spring. Don’t place poison grubs in a molehill, for the same reason (you’ll waste it). The best location for traps and poisons are in the surface tunnels.

If you irrigate your lawn regularly you should expect to be plagued with more moles than the neighbor that doesn’t care if his/her lawn looks like a goat pasture. Mole feeding from late fall to early spring is a nuisance because of the raised tunnels, but in hot months when the sun is shining and the temperatures are warm, the lifted sod may actually die before you you even get home from work; this is because the mole tunnel separates the turf from its root system. It’s our experience that a single mole will have a territory of at least 3M to 5M (M=1,000 sq ft).

If you’re serious about wanting to control moles, your first step is to walk your property every a few times per day, to determine where the active runways are located. Look for long, straight surface tunnels, and then “stomp” a portion of that tunnel back down flush with the soil level. Actually, you don’t stomp the surface tunnels, rather you just “walk-the-tight-rope”. The tunnels that are pushed back up by the mole within 12 to 24 hours are the ones where you’ll set your traps, or place your poison grubs/worms. We learned this past winter that some moles get discouraged if you’re too aggressive in stomping on their surface tunnels. They may move out (a good thing), but it’s more probable that they will just utilize a network of deeper tunnels (a bad thing), because it’s tougher to catch a mole in a deep tunnel.

Top Way To Kill Moles

  1. SET MOLE TRAPS – Trapping moles is by far the best solution in your war upon moles.THE Turf Plan® now carries one of the best mole traps made, the Easy-Set® Mole Eliminator. Simply place the trap into an active surface runway, step on the platform, and you’re done! These traps come highly recommended. We’ll teach you how to set them, too. Trapping moles is a successful control technique.

  2. We will no longer carry the harpoon (“spear”) traps for two reasons: 1) people have too much trouble learning how to set the trap properly; 2) those manufacturers “aren’t making them like they used to.” The support legs are far too short and thus the trap pops back out of the ground whilst you’re trying to set it properly. The trick in setting a harpoon trap properly is that need you need to first stomp a portion of the surface tunnel, and actually make a depression by using the side of your show, to make a “v” in the soil. That “v” is a where the trip plate will hang. With the trip plate, or “trigger” in the grove, it’ll be deadly when Mr. Mole comes through that tunnel. You need to pop the spring a three or so times to get the harpoons moving cleanly through the soil. While holding the frame of the trap with one hand, pull the spring-loaded spear rod with the other, and give it a few “practice pops.” This step ensures that the spears will actually penetrate the soil cleanly. When you’re sure the spears have a clean path through the soil, set the trigger trip plate in the v-groove that you made. The mole will push the soil up against the trip plate, activiating the trigger, resulting in a clean kill. If you want to learn how to set these traps, just bring one with you when you come to pick up products, and we’ll be happy to teach you.

  3. USE TOMCAT® MOLE KILLER – This poison bait has been developed to mimic a mole’s two favorite food sources (earthworms and grubs). THE Turf Plan® carries the grub-shaped product because the price-point is lower than with the earthworm-shaped version of the same pesticide/product. Moles will consume a lethal dose in one feeding, but it may take 2 to 3 days to die. For this bait to work, you’ve got to identify the active runways. Get a stick and poke a hole in the active tunnel. You’ll need to fetch a poison grub from the package (8 per box, in sets of two), and it’s important that you NOT TOUCH the grub with your human-scented fingers! Cut the wrapper and use a small stick to pry the “grub-shaped-grub-flavored product” out of the tray. Use the stick to push the grub into to hole in the tunnel, and then push the grub a few inches to either side of the hole. Don’t crush the tunnels down, but put a clod of soil or a rock over the hole. Set a second grub about 5 ft apart in the same tunnel. Mr. Mole will cruise down the tunnel, pop the grub(s) into his nasty mouth, and perhaps may continue to feed for a 12 to 24 hours. Three days after setting your first pair of grubs, step the tunnels down again, and see if you’ve successfully whacked Mr. Mole…by his absence the tunnels won’t be pushed back up. If surface tunnels reappear, then place at least 2 more grubs in that tunnel. Poison baits work effectively and they’re used by many local golf courses. It’s just harder to “confirm the kill.”Don’t store this product in a hot garage, because excessive heat can actually melt the grubs/worms. The active ingredient is bromethalin and the loading is 0.025%, a lethal dose for the average 5 oz mole. As with all pesticides, always follow label directions! This product is only intended for sub-surface baiting. As with all pesticides, handle and store properly. Prevent access to pesticides by children, cats and dogs. If you’ve got a cat or dog that hunts for moles, you probably shouldn’t use this product (but the bait is designed to kill a 5 oz varmint…thus there is a huge margin of safety). We’ve told you that voles will often use mole runs for their personal use. A vole that consumes the TOMCAT bait will die, but, if the vole eats the bait before the mole, you’ll have to re-bait the tunnel.

  4. REPEL MOLES WITH REPELLEX® MOLE REPELLENT – At the MU Turf Day in 2010 we learned that castor oil is a bona fide repellent of moles (and voles!). For you soft-hearted folks, who can’t bear the thought of “whack a mole” this is a kinder, gentler option. Repellex® Mole, Vole and Gopher Repellent repels moles and voles by getting absorbed into the soil quickly to dis-flavor food sources. We carry two types of Repellex for moles, dry, spreadable granules (7 lbs for 7,000 sq ft of coverage) and a 32 oz hose-end sprayer (for 8,000 sq ft of coverage). During normal weather conditions this product can last for up to 60 days and offer protection from moles, voles and gophers. The active ingredients include castor oil, pepper and garlic oils, and unique emulsifying agents allow product to penetrate the soil quickly and effectively; up to 60 days of coverage is stated on the label, but here in St. Louis, that’s probably pushing it. Water 1-2 times after application to active the ingredients. For the granular product use 1 lb of granules per 1,000 sq ft of turf. For the 32 oz ready-to-spray (RTS) hose-end sprayer, you can cover up to 8,000 sq ft of turf. Methods 1 to 3 all require some intelligence, persistence and effort on your part…you’ve got to identify the active runways. The repellents simply discourage moles by making the earthworms taste nasty, which tends to drive the moles into your NEIGHBOR’S lawn! “THE Turf Guys” calculate that 1 out of 3 of you guys can’t stand your neighbors! We hope we stocked enough product!

  5. Call an expert…not what we recommend, but if you’re not having any luck with your own trapping and baiting, you can’t just sit by and let the moles destroy your lawn! Based upon what you’ve told us, the first mole costs anywhere between $125 and $160. Each killed mole after that gets cheaper.

  6. Dogs are known to be good mole hunters. Here’s a nice shot of a dead mole, captured by a big dog in West County (Thanks to S. Tornberg in Chesterfield). A bit of turf re-construction may be in order after a dog catches a mole, but dogs generally get better at hunting after their first kill. Another customer of ours in the West County area claims their big outdoor cat is also a great hunter of chipmunks, voles AND moles. Good reason to buy a cat!

Dogs are good mole hunters.

Yard damage from that dog killing that mole.

Good Links To Learn More About Moles

Don’t just take our word on these issues! Educate yourself. The following minutia pertains to moles, with some great links thrown in for your reading pleasure.

  • There are 6 species of moles native to the US, but the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) is the only species that lives in Missouri.

  • A mole’s fur is soft and brownish to grayish with silver highlights. When brushed, the fur offers no resistance in either direction, enabling the mole to travel either backward or forward within burrows.

  • Moles prefer moist, sandy loam soils in lawns, gardens, pastures and woodlands. They generally avoid heavy, dry clay soils (Turf Guys remind you that most of us have heavy clay loam soils…so why do we have so dang many moles? These are tough critters, but, when given a choice, they’ll do most of their work in soils that offer less resistance…which explains why moles love irrigated turf and mulched beds! But, they can still wreak havoc in clay soils.)

  • They construct extensive underground passageways — shallow surface tunnels for spring, summer and fall; deep, permanent tunnels for winter use.

  • Nest cavities are located underground, connecting with the deep tunnels

  • Because moles have high energy requirements, they have large appetites. They can eat 70 to 80 percent of their weight daily.

  • They actively feed day and night at all times of the year.

  • Moles do not hibernate because they don’t store fat or food! This explains why they’ll create new tunnels in the middle of winter, as long as the soil surface isn’t frozen.

  • Earthworms and white grubs are preferred foods, but because moles are insectivores, they feed on insects, snail larvae, spiders, small vertebrates (any thing that moves in their tunnels!)

  • Mounds of soil called molehills may be brought to the surface of the ground as moles dig deep, permanent tunnels and nest cavities…don’t set traps on molehills, because all you will catch is “dirt”. The trap will trip, but you’ll usually always strike out.

  • Shrews and meadow voles frequently use mole tunnels as runways and travel lanes. Shrews, like moles, are insectivorous and eat little vegetation (these are beneficial mammals!). A shrew has an elongated snout and a long tail, and is rather distinctive in appearance. For a picture, here’s a link.

  • Meadow voles eat a wide variety of vegetative matter and damage plant life. A vole has a jaw reminiscent of a pit bull, plus, they have furry ears, not naked “Mickey Mouse” ears on field mice…Vole link. (Turf Guys learned that the dominant vole in STL is the pine vole…look for a shorter tail, strong jaw, and inconspicuous ears.)

  • The mole activity people usually see is of two kinds — raised ridges or surface tunnels and mounds. These raised ridges or surface tunnels are unique to moles

  • Harpoon traps are effective for trapping moles in surface tunnels, particularly after rains; but, harpoon traps are not effective for trapping moles in deep tunnels.

  • One of the best ways to catch moles in deep runs is to bury a 3-lb coffee can or wide mouth jar, below the tunnel level…as Mr. Mole hauls ass through his tunnels, he’ll tumble into the coffee can, provided you’ve placed it deep enough. Be sure to cover the large hole required by this method with a board or a shingle, so that the trap is darkened. You’ll have to humanely dispose of the critter once you catch it. (Turf Guys remind you that “humanely” is subject to multiple interpretations. Please don’t be a sadist.)

A professional trapper in Cincinnati, OH has an interesting web site, loaded with good information (he’s a straight-shooter!)

  • This pro is very adamant that trapping is the only effective control method for moles

  • He discourages the use of repellents, because it just prolongs your “day of reckoning”

  • He has a detailed discussion about all the silly and ineffective folk lore around mole control

  • Tunnels will be re-colonized by other moles. Moles have a scent, and they can tell if a network of tunnels is inhabited or not.

  • Effective mole control requires vigilance! It is a war of attrition. (Turf Guys remind you that this is the case with all landscape-destroying varmints…rabbits, deer, voles…you can’t let your guard down!)

  • Moles may leave an area if disturbed but will usually return when you least expect it.

  • Trapping in early spring, before new litters are born, prevents a lot of trouble later in the season

  • Don’t stomp down 100% of surface tunnels, because that may just encourage the mole to dig deeper tunnels…just stomp down portions of each tunnel, say ~25% or so. (Turf Guys warn you that in the heat of the summer, you’ll end up with desiccated turf wherever the surface tunnels are—so, in spring and fall, follow this tip. In summer, stomp all tunnels down to prevent turf death).

  • Moles are attracted to moist soil, because the earthworms will be abundant in the topsoil when soils are wet

  • Moles may seem to vanish during extended cold or dry periods, but they’ve just gone deeper. And because they’re using fewer tunnels during these adverse conditions, trapping can be very effective, though difficult.

  • Because of specialized bone and muscle construction, moles can exert a lateral digging force equivalent to 32 times its body weight. As a comparison, a 150 lb man would be able to exert a 4800 lb lateral force.

  • A mole can create 18 feet of surface tunnels per hour.

  • A mole’s speed through existing tunnels is about 80 ft per minute (tad more than a ft per second)

  • Ground hornets or yellow jackets often nest in old mole tunnels

  • The average adult mole is 6 to 8″ long and weighs between 3 and 6 oz (approximately the same size as chipmunks)

  • Females can have 1 or 2 litters per year, with 2 to 6 pups, depending upon the health of the female

  • Mortality of the pups is high, at least 50% (Huh? Good thing that this is the case!); pups leave the nest after approx. 4 weeks

  • A 5 ounce mole will consume 45-50 lbs of worms and insects each year

  • Moles contain twice as much blood and twice as much hemoglobin as other mammals of similar size. This allows moles to breathe more easily in underground environments with low oxygen

(Note: This blog was originally posted on March 20, 2012)

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