For Release October 29, 2006
Moles Are Getting Very Active, Again!
by Chuck Otte, Geary County Extension Agent
That eternal scourge of the beautiful lawn is getting quite active again. The questions that I've been receiving on moles has just skyrocketed that past week to ten days and with the recent rains, the problem is going to be even worse. If you're hoping that the problem will go away soon because the moles will be going into hibernation, think again. Moles don't hibernate.
Moles are native to the tall grass prairies and the eastern deciduous forests. They are insectivores, related to shrews and bats. They should not be confused with voles (meadow mice) or pocket gophers. Both of these creatures will also burrow in the soil, but they eat plants and seeds. They are also native to our state but are more likely to be found in the native prairie areas, but not the woodland areas.
Moles are solitary creatures, for the most part. They do not live in high concentrations, in fact three to five per acre is considered a high population. Moles have very high metabolisms and often have to early nearly their own weight in food every day. Their food selection is simple. They will eat insect or insect like creatures that they can find in the soil. White grubs, earthworms, beetles and beetle larvae make up the majority of their food, but they will eat anything that is insect like that they encounter in the soil.
While they may eat plant fibers, rootlets, small seed pods or husks that they find in the soil, plant parts do not make up a major portion of their diet. They will not eat your tulip bulbs, they will not eat the seeds that you plant in the garden. They don't eat the roots of grass, trees or shrubs. But by their tunneling action, they may dislodge tulip bulbs or leave air pockets around the roots of trees and ornamental plants leaving them susceptible to damage from drying roots.
Moles literally swim through the soil. The most obvious tunneling action you see is from surface feeding tunnels which are usually only used once. These surface feeding tunnels are connected to slightly deeper permanent tunnels that are used regularly. The soil from these permanent tunnels is pushed to the surface creating a little explosion of soil called a mole hill. This is different from the piles of dirt left by pocket gophers. The gopher pile is going to be comprised of what looks like finely ground soil. There will be a visible "plug"and all the soil will appear finely granulated, not cloddy as in a mole hill.
Moles can be trapped or poisoned, but both of these efforts must take place in the permanent tunnels. You also have to use traps or baits specifically for moles. Poison peanuts or grain based baits will not work, you need the formulated pelleted baits or gels. Repellents do not work effectively and neither do frightening devices, especially the electronic ultrasound products. Moles are often active at sundown and sunrise. By sitting quietly in a lawn chair in the evening you can see them tunneling through the soil at which time they can be unearthed with a shovel or spading fork. You can also reduce mole activity, somewhat, by treating the lawn with insecticides to control food sources.
Ultimately, if you live next to a wooded ravine or pasture, you may find that even if you do all the right things, you will still have moles tunneling through your yard looking for food. The mole activity will decrease once the ground get's colder, but with every warm spell through the winter or spring you will see new tunnels. Often the best approach is to simply stomp the tunnels or roll the lawn to flatten the tunnels thereby reducing lawn damage from exposed grass roots. Moles are well adapted to our area and our lawns provide a wonderful environment for them!
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