For Release March 21, 2004

Moles, Mother Nature's Rototiller

by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent

If you have a yard or garden, especially one next to a natural area like a wooded ravine or large pasture, you will have an encounter with moles at some time. Moles are native to Kansas and are found in woodlands and prairie areas alike as long as there is an abundance of insects. Moles are not rodents, but are in the order Insectivora, related more closely to shrews than any other Kansas mammal.

Moles are very solitary animal, staying underground virtually all their life, except when they emerge briefly in early spring to mate. Moles need to eat a lot of insects to stay alive. It isn't uncommon at this time of the year for moles to eat one half their weight daily. Insects, and other soil arthropods including earthworms, make up 99% of their diet. With this large need for food, one mole can cover a lot of area. Normal mole population densities are around three to four moles per acre, so it is likely that all that damage to your yard is being caused by just one mole.

Moles are not easy to control. In fact, if you live next to an undisturbed natrual area, you will regularly be plagued with moles! Forget about all the things you read about chewing gum, electronic devices, wind powered noise makers or even spraying castor oil on the lawn. None of these approaches have shown any consistent control. Ulitmately, it comes down to trapping or poisoning. Even attempting to control the food sources will be slow and only partially successful. Even if there is no food source, moles may still make regular forays into your yard just looking to see if there is food!

Moles have two types of tunnels that they use. The very obvious surface runs, which really bubble up the soil and disturb the vegetation are one use feeding runs. The moles swim through the soil looking for food. Since many of the food sources are close to the soil surface, the moles are close to the surface and these runs are very obvious. Trying to place traps or poisons in these runs is very unproductive as they are only used once. However, at the time of year that moles are actively feeding, a patient homeowner can sit quietly in a lawn chair in the evening and wait to see mole activity which can then be addressed with a sharp shovel!

The feeding runs start from and return to permanent tunnels that are lower in the soil profile. These often just barely push the soil surface up. In fact some are true excavated tunnels that go deeper and this soil is pushed to the surface causing the volcano effect of bare soil you sometimes see. To determine which tunnels are permanent tunnels, you start stomping or rolling down all the tunnels, then see which ones are reopened. Once you find the tunnels that are regularly reopened, you know where to place you traps or baits.

There are several styles of traps availalbe. All will work if used according to the instructions. At this time though, I am aware of only one bait that is effective. This is called Mole Patrol and should be available in some area stores.

Moles are a nuisance. They don't eat plants, but their digging can expose roots and unsettle plants to the point that they may die. You can either choose to live with them, or power up your resolve and patience and go after them! Either way, you are going to have your work cut out for you!


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