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Moles frequently cause damage but are also beneficial since they feed on insects, worms and other invertebrates. They help aerate the soil by burrowing. Occasionally, they eat plant seeds, roots and bulbs but most damage is done when burrows expose plant roots to the air inside the tunnels.
They are most active in spring or fall and on cloudy days. During winter and midsummer, they burrow deeper into the ground. Moles have very extensive underground systems including travel tunnels which are used daily and foraging tunnels which are rarely re-used.
I. Direct Killing
For Eastern moles, flatten the tunnels and then identify those that are repaired the next day. Flatten them again and check them periodically through the day to see when the moles are active. This is often late morning or early evening.
When a mole is observed pushing through the tunnel, it may be killed with a shovel or similar instrument. Diligence and patience are required for success. This method rarely works on the star nose mole which burrows too deeply into the soil to be seen.
II. Trapping Moles
Eastern Moles - Trapping is the most effective method of mole control. Carefully place traps in active tunnels (i.e. those that were repaired 12 to 24 hours after being flattened). Work the harpoons or jaws of the trap gently through the soil to insure smooth penetration.
If traps are sprung prematurely, remove a small piece of sod from under the trigger pan to delay the action of the trap. If moles burrow around a trap, the soil has been flattened too tightly or part of the trap is projecting into the tunnel and is alarming the mole.
Be sure no light can penetrate into the tunnel near the trap.
Star nose Moles - To trap star nose moles, locate an active tunnel by flattening the mounts of soil. Mounds that are pushed back up in 24 to 48 hours are over active tunnels. Beneath one of the mounds, dig a hole 4 to 6 inches deep to the bottom of the tunnel. Refill the hole with enough soil to cover the tunnel and then set the harpoon trap in the hole.
If the trap is set in an active tunnel, it should catch a mole within 24 to 48 hours. If not, reset the trap and check for problems such as light getting into the tunnel or the trigger mechanism need adjustment.
There are several repellants available that seem to work quite well on the Eastern mole. These products are castor oil based. When they are spread on the ground and watered in, they are an irritant to the mole. This causes them to stay out of the treated area from one to three months during a recent study at Michigan State University.
IV. Reducing Mole Food Sources
Moles are insectivores. They feed insect larvae such as grubs but a large part of their diet consists of earthworms. The use of insecticides to reduce the food supply especially in light or sandy soils may help reduce but will not eliminate mole populations. It tends to have little effect on heavy, clay type soils.
Insecticides such should not be used unless high levels of insects such as European chafer grubs are causing lawn problems. Routine use of insecticides on lawns for "prevention" purposes should be avoided. Studies indicate that this kills off predator insects that keep certain lawn pests under control naturally.
Any insecticide treatment will have limited effect if only one section of the mole's burrow is treated such as a single yard in a neighborhood. Moles will continue to burrow through treated areas in search of food. Also, moles will eventually move back into the area from adjacent open fields or wooded areas.
Smoke Fumigation - Smoke fumigation using specially designed cartridges for mole control is difficult. The key problem is treating a wide enough area with enough cartridges to be effective. All parts of the tunnel must be treated simultaneously. Many mole tunnel systems are so extensive that this is not practical.
Vibrating Devices - Devices such as electrical vibrators or plastic windmills which send slight tremors through the ground will repel moles. Unfortunately, each device has a very limited range of effectiveness so the average yard
would require dozens of them to be effective. In the case of electronic devices, this gets expensive. Hundreds of yellow whirling plastic flowers in the yard would be unsightly.
Cats - Cats may kill the occasional star nosed mole but more often, they catch small, grey animals called shrews. These animals are actually predators of young moles so killing them may actually add to the mole problem. Also, cats seem to choose to be mole catchers or not. Nobody knows how to train them to go after this pest.
Poison Baits - Baits registered for mole control such as pellets treated with arsenic and zinc phosphide are either ineffective or unreliable. Fresh baits tend to work better than those that have been setting on the shelf for long periods.
Home Remedies - Mothballs, spreading lime on the soil, chewing gum, broken glass, exhaust fumes and flooding the tunnels are not effective in controlling moles. People have tried all manner of techniques over the years but, in controlled studies, only trapping, direct killing and castor oil based repellants worked.
If anyone comes up with a quick, easy, inexpensive way of ridding the home lawn of moles, please let me know. We will share the riches.
Catching Moles can be Tricky
F. BRIAN SMITH
Of The Post and Courier Staff
In last week's column, I explained what moles are and their biology. Understanding their biology is critical to effectively dealing with them when they become a pest in the garden. We have six key points on the mole's biology that we need to remember to effectively control them:
-- They are carnivores, not herbivores.
-- They have a wide range of food preferences besides grubs.
-- They are most active in the spring and fall.
-- They are most active at the soil surface immediately after it rains.
-- Straight, long tunnels are ones they use every day, while the serpentine tunnels may be used only once.
-- To prevent the next generation of moles, we need to control them in our yard in the spring.
You have an unlimited number of proposed control measures for moles, but only three have real effectiveness -- traps, repellents and pets. Using insecticides to control mole activity is generally ineffective. Moles have a wide food preference besides worms and grubs. So using an insecticide still will leave food sources the moles will feed on.
In the past few years, bait products based on insect chemistry have been introduced. They have shown some measure of effectiveness by individual users, but I have not seen any studies done to accurately evaluate them.
Mole poisons also may be found on the market. Most of them are poisoned peanuts and such, which are not going to work because the mole is a meat-eater. When someone uses one of these products and the mole problem goes away, it's a coincidence. A predator got the mole, or the mole moved to another area.
"I have a cat for hire." That was the response from someone in my office when the subject of moles came up. If you are lucky enough to have a pet that likes to catch moles, then let them have at it. They may dig up the lawn for a few days, but they will get the mole.
Because moles are loners and do not live in groups, catching the single mole almost always will solve the problem. The evidence of your pet's achievement will be found. If the proud animal does not "present" his catch to you for inspection, you likely will find the dead mole lying somewhere in the garden. Moles have a musky odor that most animals do not find appealing. This is why pets will kill the mole, but not eat it.
In recent years, castor oil repellents have become popular. Although they are not 100 percent effective, they show some measure of success at repelling moles. Their length of effectiveness is based on frequency of rain and the soil type, from 30-60 days. Research indicates that castor oil-based repellents used on clay soils will be effective longer than on sandy soils. Also, frequent rainfall or irrigation will reduce the length of time the material works.
One common mistake with using castor oil-based repellents is in the application. It does need to be applied across the whole area you are trying to keep the moles out of. A perimeter application doesn't work. These repellents usually need to be watered in, so it is important to read the label of the particular product to determine what application procedure to follow. Still, this is the most user-friendly of the two methods and why most people use them. You should apply the repellent when rain is forecast, or as mole activity increases in the spring. Traps can be the most effective way to deal with moles. The challenge with traps, as anyone who has used them discovers, is that they require some thought and persistence in their use. This takes us back to the key points mentioned earlier. For a trap to work, it must be placed in a location where a mole frequently travels. This means you want to look for those long, straight tunnels along driveways, sidewalks or fence lines. These are tunnels a mole is most likely to travel often. To effectively use a trap, press down several tunnels in different areas and mark them with a flag or similar device. The next day, see which ones were repaired. You should place your trap along these.
The most common trap is the harpoon trap. After you determine the spot for your trap, press the tunnel down slightly where it will be placed. Insert the support stakes into the ground so that they are on each side of the tunnel, but do not invade the tunnel. Work the harpoon mechanism a few times to be sure it is freely able to enter the soil and then set the trigger mechanism. Watch your fingers while doing all of this! Cover the trap with a 5-gallon bucket. This will prevent pets and children from injury should they accidentally come in contact with the trap. If after two or three days you have not trapped a mole, then move the trap to a new location.
It is important not to create any strange scents with your trap. Moles do not have a well-developed sense of smell, but if you oil the moving parts with typical lubricants, they can be strong enough to raise the mole's attention to the fact that something is wrong with this picture. Mineral oil is a better lubricating material.
If the harpoon trap is too much for your sensibility, you can catch the mole alive and release it in some nearby woods. To catch the mole alive, after you have found the frequented tunnels, excavate a hole below the tunnel and place a 3-pound coffee can or quart jar into the hole. Be sure the lip of the can is at the bottom of the tunnel, and then lay a board on the soil surface over the hole.
In small areas, you can erect hardware or mesh cloth in the soil to exclude moles. Dig a trench 16-24 inches deep and install the barrier material. Leave 3 to 6 inches of the material above the soil surface.
If you wish to learn more about moles and their habits, read the fact sheet on moles at the Clemson University Home & Garden Information Center at hgic.clemson.edu.
Controlling Moles in the Height of Mole Season
Warm weather has arrived and it's time for spring landscaping and yard work. It's also the season for mole activity to increase, causing ridges of up heaved soil and mounds of dirt to appear from nowhere. Although moles are active throughout the year, their burrowing activity increases with warm, wet weather, coinciding with peak lawn mowing chores. It is important to learn all that you can about the habits of eastern moles before deciding to initiate a damage control program. Also keep in mind that moles are beneficial animals, consuming lots of insects in the soil. If the individual mole is not "out of place," mark it down as an asset and don't worry about them. If you have moles where you don't want them, it's time to learn how to control them. However, if excellent habitat is available and nearby mole populations are high, control will be extremely difficult.
Mole Activity - Moles prefer moist, sandy loam soils, usually avoiding heavy, dry clay soils. The mole activity people usually see is one of two kinds: raised ridges or surface tunnels and mounds. These raised ridges are unique to moles. No other animal leaves this evidence of its presence. Moles also leave conical-shaped mounds of soil on the surface, especially when digging deep runs. These deep runs lead to a nest or provide tunnels for use in winter or during the very hot times of summer. A single litter of four to five young are born from March through May each year in grass-lined nests located about 1« to 2 feet beneath the soil surface. These young become independent after about a month, begin their own search for food and are able to breed the next year.
Habits - To successfully control moles, first learn their habits and what motivates them. Moles live in these underground runways. In heavily infested areas, these runways form a vast network of interconnecting highways. Runways are dug to search for food - food is the single most important aspect in their lives. Moles have very high energy requirements and large appetites, consuming approximately one-third of their own body weight daily to obtain the energy they expend digging these seemingly endless runways searching for more food. Moles feed underground on insects, snail larvae, and spiders, however, earthworms and white grubs are by far their preferred foods. Moles rarely eat flower bulbs, ornamentals, or other vegetation, but plants are sometimes damaged as moles tunnel in search of food.
Some of these runways also serve as major travel lanes used by several moles during their daily activity. Major runways are found under fence lines, along sidewalks, or in other generally protected areas. These main runways are usually 6 inches under the ground level, but may be as shallow as 2 inches or as deep as 20 inches. Extremely shallow runways, immediately under the turf are often feeder offshoots from a main runway and are probably only used once during their search for food. To successfully control moles it is important to be able to recognize those major travel lanes which are used.
Control Measures - Nearly everyone has heard of some surefire home remedy for controlling all sorts of wildlife problems, especially moles. Regardless of what you may have heard, there are no "short cuts" or "magic wands" to use when trying to control moles. To get results, forget chewing gum, marigolds, windmills, electronic gadgets or even repellents. The very nature of their food habits (insects) makes moles hard to poison and for that reason I am hesitant to recommend the use of products such as poison peanuts. Also, using soil insecticides to control the mole's food source and to prevent damage isn't one of my preferred methods. Fumigation with lethal gases (gas cartridges) can be successful in some circumstances, particularly when the runways are located deep under the soil surface and all that is noticeable are the mounds of soil on the surface, but more often it is a waste of time trying to fill the porous soil of the vast runway system with deadly fumes. There are a number of new products on the market which have proven to be effective, such as a repellent with castor oil as an active ingredient.
Traps - There are three excellent types of mole traps on the market, each giving good results when handled properly. These traps each take advantage of the mole's natural instinct of reopening obstructed tunnels. They can also be set without arousing the animal's suspicions. Indeed, moles seem to possess a natural shrewdness and ability to sense danger, a trait which makes them challenging to trap. However, success or failure depends on the operator's knowledge of mole habits and the trap mechanism. Proper trap selection and placement is very important. There is no reason to be intimidated by traps. They are very safe and easy to use, provided they are set properly in a location where there is evidence of fresh mole activity, preferably in one of the surface runways which are used daily. Scissor-jaw, choker loop and harpoon-type trap each work well under different circumstances and soil conditions. Moles seem to be more active in early evening and through the night, so it is best to set traps in the afternoon. Leave the trap set for up to 2 days. If a trap fails to produce results after 2 days, move the trap to a new location.
Remember, traps should be set along the main runways to ensure success. One method commonly used to locate these runways is to press down with your heel on the surface until it is ground level. If the tunnel is raised during the next day, chances are that you have located one of these major runways. Setting the trap at least 1 foot away from the molehill is another way to help assure trapping in a main runway.