Moles are not as slow as you think

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By Dennis Morgeson

Did you know that the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus), so prevalent in Kentucky lawns, gardens and pastures, is not a rodent?  The mole belongs to the order of mammals called Insectivores, the insect eaters.  Their food is chiefly earthworms, but they also feed on grubs, ants, beetles, slugs, snails, spiders, and centipedes etc.  In other words, to control moles by removing their food source, you would need an almost sterile soil.  The mole seldom eats vegetable matter but causes its damage by uprooting turf, vegetables or other plants.

The mole doesn’t have external ears and his/her eyes are tiny.  But who needs eyes when they spend their entire life underground?  They seldom, if ever, travel above ground.

The mole is not as slow as you may think.  Using a special detection apparatus, scientists chased a mole that traveled underground, in a previously made deep run, at a rate of 79 feet per minute.  That’s almost 1 mph.  The mole can cross under your lawn before you can reach for your shovel.  His/her main run may cross under several lawns extending as far as 900 feet, with feeding tunnels branching off the main tunnel.  One mole that was tracked traveled an average of one-quarter mile per day.

Moles don’t hibernate.  They can be active every day and every night of every season.  Since they don’t like frozen or extremely dry soil, they will spend most of their time in the deeper runs during the summer and winter.  But even then they are still active and feed on the insects that are also moving downward, escaping the undesirable surface.  Although moles may be active at any time, their activity peaks around noon and midnight.  Watch for them then!  They will also be more active after a warm rain.

Old lawns, especially in more rural areas, are the prime target for moles.  They like pastures and seem to prefer fence rows.  Recently developed urban neighborhoods do not have moles since the mole prefers well drained, uncompacted soils, not the shallow compacted clay that predominates in most neighborhoods.

Do you notice that the surface runs are not usually connected to the soil mounds?  The surface run is a result of surface feeding where the mole pushes through the top few inches of soil searching for insects.  Many of these runs are not used again after the initial feeding because the food source is depleted.

The more permanent mole runs are 4 to 10 inches underground and form an interconnecting system of runs with branching feeding tunnels.  These are connected to the surface mounds of soil.  When the mole makes these deep tunnels, he/she can’t compact the soil enough to make room for his/her body.  Therefore, he/she must loosen the soil, then push it into burrows being vacated or push it out through a vertical tunnel to the surface.  This makes the volcano-like mound that smothers the grass and damages the mower blade.  When this happens, just spread the soil over the adjacent turf; it makes a good top dressing.

Moles are not prolific like rabbits.  There may be only 1 or 2 moles in a lawn.  The number of runs or mounds does not indicate the number of moles present.

Not only do moles spend “quiet” time (possibly napping) in the surface runs, they often become quiet when they detect someone approaching.  Of course, they may also quickly flee.  Even without disturbance, their activity in an area may only last a week or two.  Then they pick up and move to better hunting grounds.

Control tactics for moles are varied.  Natural controls include predation from foxes, dogs, cats, snakes and owls.  Tractors and large animals may crush the mole in a surface run.

Insecticides won’t kill moles, but they may deplete their food source to the point that you make the mole work harder making more runs.

Poison peanut baits and mole beans have not been proven to work.  It is highly unlikely that a mole will eat vegetable matter.

Electronic devices vibrate the soil but the mole feeds on insects, not electromagnetic waves. Magic remedies like broken glass, gas, moth balls, sheep dip, and lye have not proven effective.

Mole traps like the harpoon trap, can be effective when it is placed in active runs.  Follow the direction on the box or ask for UK publication FOR-42 “Managing Mole Problems in Kentucky.”

A newer mole control is on the market and has proven to have some success and is sold under several brand names.  It’s actually a poison gummy worm that has an attractant in it to get the mole to eat it.  You can purchase these worms at many local farm stores as well as the big box stores.