Moles: Good or Bad?

Amy Aldenderfer, County Extension Agent for Horticulture

Did you know that the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) that is 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”.  For more information, contact the Hardin County Cooperative Extension Service by phone: 270.765.4121, email: Amy.Aldenderfer@uky.edu or on the web: http://hardin.ca.uky.edu/.  Educational programs of the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, or physical or mental disability.

 

CLASS NOTES  Mark your calendars and register:

Pruning Trees and Shrubs—March 7, 6 p.m.—FREE— There is an art to pruning a tree.  But first learn the science of proper pruning techniques to shape trees and shrubs for healthy growth. 

Building a Wren House—March 14, 6 p.m.—$5— Wrens are funny little birds that are entertaining to have around.  Attract them to your yard by building a house made just for them.

Veggies 101—March 21, 6 p.m.—$5—A perennial fav.  Growing your own veggies is easy when you have the knowledge and tools.  This two-hour class introduces gardening concepts for beginning gardeners

Plant This Instead of the Invasive One—April 11 6 p.m.—$5—Plants that get out of hand are a gardener’s worst nightmare.  Learn which plants will give you the same look as some of the most common, aggressive garden plants.

Butterflies of Kentucky—April 18, 6 p.m.—$5— Butterflies are the flying flowers in the garden.  Learn which ones you can attract to your garden with plants the caterpillars will eat.

Birds of Kentucky—May 2, 6 p.m.—$5— Of the 383 species of birds in KY How many can you recognize? We’ll talk about common and rarer birds that might be in your gardens. 

 How to Register: 

· Go to http://hardin.ca.uky.edu/content/line-class-registration to sign up for any class.  Then mail in your payment.

· Or call (270) 765-4121 and talk to the receptionist.  Then mail in your payment.

· You will be registered on a first pay, first registered basis.  All classes have a maximum number of participants.  When this number is reached, there will be a waiting list.

Payment for each of the Gardener’s Toolbox classes are required to be enrolled ONE WEEK prior to the class date. You will be registered on a first pay, first registered basis.

Cancellations will be fully refunded ONE WEEK prior to the class date. Please let us know as early as possible if you have to cancel, we probably have others on a wait list.

HOW TO GROW Classes: If you would like to attend the class but do NOT want the supplies, there is the option of not paying the class supply fee. Please notify the front desk when registering.