Moles…… What are they, where do they come from, and what do they do? Well, for starters, they are significant destroyers of lawns, gardens, and farms. So, we’re going to delve further into their past, present, and future to find out what they’re all about and how you can go about implementing effective pest control. OK, so moles might not seem like the most exciting subject in the wide world of gardening and lawn care, however, if they invade your yard, you’re going to want to be armed with all the knowledge possible.
With their fossorial or subterranean lifestyle, moles are quite simply small mammals with velvety fur, cylindrical little bodies, and tiny eyes, ears, and back legs. Their front legs, although very short as well, are quite powerful and they have good-sized paws for digging up your yard with ease. Those amazing paws act just like little shovels as they zoom through your lawn and garden.
Moles are members of the Talpidae family and can be found mainly in Europe, Asia, and the majority of North America. Other mole-like animals also exist in parts of southern Africa and Australia and are commonly called “shrew-moles” or “desmans.” The name “mole” originated in middle English as “moldwarp” or “moldy-warp” and variations of the name actually mean “dirt tosser” or “one who throws soil” in other languages throughout Europe. The male of the species are called “boars,” and the female moles are known as “sows.” Interestingly enough, groups of moles are called “labours,” which is fitting since they labor so hard at the destruction of beautiful yards and farms.
In many countries, moles are known as agricultural pests, however, in others they are protected, like in Germany, requiring a permit to kill them. The problems that have been cited as being mole-induced include pastures covered in fresh soil which can reduce the yield, agricultural machinery damaged by exposure to stones, young plants that are damaged by soil disturbance, and watercourses or drainage systems damaged by moles.
In addition, moles raise molehills, which kill lawns, and they also undermine the roots of plants, causing severe damage or death. However, contrary to popular opinion, they don’t actually eat the plant roots. What they do eat are earthworms, as well as other tiny invertebrates that can be found in the soil. Mole saliva has a toxin in it that paralyzes earthworms and then, much like the monster in the “Alien” movies, it keeps their still-alive prey in their underground larders for eating later. Some of these rooms have been found with more than a thousand earthworms in them waiting to become dinner. This makes moles seem even creepier, right?
Moles have a natural tolerance for higher carbon dioxide levels than most other mammals since their blood cells contain a special hemoglobin form with a much higher affinity for oxygen. They also utilize oxygen more effectively via the reuse of exhaled air, resulting in a stronger ability to survive in environments that are low on oxygen like their underground burrows.
The breeding season for moles is dependent upon the particular species and location, but on average it’s usually from February thru May. Male moles woo the females with high-pitched squeals. How romantic. Moles have a gestation period of approximately 42 days, and they bear three to five baby moles at a time.
How to Know if You Have a Mole
Look for one of two types of surface activity, a mound of fresh dirt, or a series of them, or tunneling in your lawn approximately one inch beneath the surface. You may see just one or both and mounds can range between 3 and 24 inches wide and resemble a volcano made of fluffy new dirt. You may have surface tunnels in the middle of your garden or lawn where the moles are foraging for insects. After getting rid of the moles, if you rake out all of the ridges and mounds, your lawn should recover just fine.
A Close Encounter
I once walked out into my front yard on what started out to be a bright sunny day just to find dozens of mounds of fresh dirt with holes in each one all over my beautiful green lawn. Angry at the mess in front of me, I grabbed the garden hose, shoved it into the nearest hole and turned it on full blast. Not sure what I thought would happen, but it felt good to be doing something about the problem. As I watched, water started bubbling out of another hole and riding on that wave of water was a very wet yard-destroying critter. I grabbed the hose, put my thumb over the end to form a stronger spray, and started chasing him with it. He rode that water out into the street, and I kept pushing him with it until he got to the other side of the road and, lo and behold, he ended up smack dab in the yard of that really annoying neighbor. You know the one. The neighbor that’s never nice to anyone and ruins beautiful, peaceful Sunday mornings with loud tirades and four-letter words. Well, my gopher had found a new home far from my front lawn. It was a beautiful day, after all.
Getting Rid of Moles
Once controlled by strychnine in some countries, it was outlawed, and there was some concern that they would proliferate. Newer methods of controlling them, however, include sonic, electronic, and ultrasonic devices, and chemicals. The sonic/electronic devices emit vibrations that are irritating to moles and will effectively force them to look for another place to live. A chemical repellent is a compound that repels moles by keeping them from eating a specific plant or just keep them out of any area where the repellent was applied. Essentially, mole repellents make your yard so uncomfortable that they just move to another location.
Some inexpensive DIY methods include growing garlic in your yard or putting garlic-infused water down the holes. Another good method is to get one of those huge jars of cayenne pepper that they sell at Costco and other warehouse stores and start dumping copious amounts down the mole or gopher holes.
Other products, like Tomcat Mole Killer, Bromethalin, Hi-Yield Mole & Gopher Bait with zinc phosphide or even castor oil will kill moles and gophers. But, if other methods have failed, rather than risk making a severe mistake and killing your neighbor’s dog or cat, (which sadly, happens a lot more often than you might think), hiring a pest management professional is a much better option. They’re trained and certified for properly and safely employing any repellent devices or chemicals that will be effective. And, if your lawn doesn’t seem to be coming back as you would like, try calling a local lawn care service for help.