By Gene Kelly | April 2, 1998
From Missouri Conservationist: Apr 1998

Most people are enthused about seeing wildlife around their home, but I have yet to hear about anyone excited about having moles in their lawn. Whales, ducks and wild turkeys have ardent supporters, but moles have no benevolent organizations dedicated to their well being. There is no Wild Mole Federation, Moles Unlimited or Mole Anti-Defamation League.

Instead, moles are cursed, stomped on and shot at. They are trapped, gassed and flooded. Indignant homeowners use insecticides to kill moles' food supply and vibrators to shake their territory. Moles are offered poison peanuts and chewing gum and sprayed with the oil from castor beans. But no matter what is thrown at them, moles remain mostly unaffected and continue tunneling through the ground in search of food.

The eastern mole is the beast that does the most damage to turf and to the pride of turf owners. Eastern moles average 7 inches in length and weigh about 6 ounces. They have short gray fur. The most notable feature of a mole is its large front feet, the primary tools of its digging trade. Paddlelike, each front foot has five strong claws that aid in digging.

Voracious eaters, moles prefer invertebrates. Grubs and earthworms make up three-fourths of the mole's diet, but moles also will gobble down other creatures, including beetles, ants and crickets.

The mole's insatiable appetite, plus its ability to dig, equals trouble for the keepers of the turf. Tunneling a foot a minute-as much as 300 feet a day-a mole can ripple a smooth lawn or golf course in short order. Add two or three moles per acre to the equation, and you have a formula for aggravated assault.

Most turf keepers don't like moles, even though they perform an important function in the ecosystem. Their tunneling mixes the surface organic matter with the more sterile subsoils and permits water and air to penetrate deeper into the ground. Moles also feed on destructive insects such as white grubs and cutworms. If you can tolerate their digging, moles should be left alone.

Several predators, including hawks, owls, foxes, coyotes and house cats, occasionally prey on moles. But compared to most prey species, a mole has few worries-even when dealing with humans.

There are as many home remedies for getting rid of moles as there are for getting rid of the common cold. Most remedies persist because of the unpredictable behavior of the quarry. Moles may be active in an area for a while, then disappear for no apparent reason, leaving the impression that the latest gadget or concoction is the answer to the lawn keeper's dream. Chances are the mole will return when conditions are more to its liking.

Some of the common mole buster remedies appear in the chart on page 25. There are many more that are too bizarre to mention.

Those with time and patience sometimes can capture moles alive by standing quietly during the early morning or evening in areas of fresh mole activity. If you see a mole tunneling near the surface, quietly approach the spot, jam a spade behind the mole, quickly flip the animal on the surface and into a container.

Don't be mislead into believing that capturing a mole will save its life. The trauma of capture often causes a mole to die before it can be released. Those that survive the trip to their new home are so off balance they may not live long enough to become reestablished. It is usually more humane to dispatch a mole on the spot than to expose it to suffering.

Trapping is the most reliable method of getting rid of moles. There are several effective traps on the market, but for the sake of simplicity, we'll consider one that also is easy to use.

The first trap of choice by most mole busters is the harpoon-type, which impales the mole on spikes. This trap is available at most hardware stores and garden centers.

You can best trap moles in the spring and summer when they are tunneling near the surface and their runs are clearly visible. Select places with fresh mole activity and where the run goes in a straight line. Straight runs are usually permanent tunnels that the moles use regularly, sometimes two or three times a day. Twisting tunnels are used less frequently, sometimes only once.

Flatten down a 2- to 3-inch section of the raised tunnel, making certain to mark the spot so you can find it again. Do this in several places to get an idea of where the moles are most active. If a tunnel is re-opened within 24 hours, you have found a good place to trap.

Start by flattening down the tunnel again the width of the trap pan-about 2 inches. Don't mash it down too far. Ground level or slightly lower will do.

Next, place the harpoon trap directly over the flattened run so the long supporting stakes straddle the run. Push the stakes into the ground until the trap pan is near the flattened tunnel. Select another location if the trap stakes cannot be pushed all the way down.

With the trap stakes pushed into the ground and the trap pan nearly touching the surface, fire the trap a few times to open holes for the spears to travel. It is important for the spears to move with minimum resistance through the soil when the trap is sprung.

Finally, cock the trap and push it into position with the pan close to the surface, so the mole puts pressure against the pan when opening the tunnel. Make certain the trap spears do not stick down into the tunnel and alert the mole.

Check the trap daily. If the trap is sprung, do not pull it out of the ground. The mole may only be pinned down and will scamper free when the trap is removed. Use a small tool, not your fingers, to dig down on each side of the trap to find out if the mole is there. A mole's bite has been compared to that of a mini pit bull, so be careful.

Once you catch a mole, move the trap to another run. Moles are solitary critters, so it usually is not productive to continue trapping in the same spot. If the trap does not catch a mole in two or three days, move it to another location.

Mole traps are dangerous only when out of the ground, so always fire the trap before removing it. If you trap moles in the vicinity of children or pets, it's a good idea to cover the trap with a bucket or a circle of wire.

Trapping moles may take a little practice, but it's a skill you can master. Go about it in an organized fashion and don't get discouraged. Remember, the commercial operators who remove moles for pay use traps exclusively. If they can do it, so can you. triangle

Popular Mole Buster Methods

Windmills-Flower-shaped windmills punched into the ground where moles are active. The spinning windmill is believed to cause a vibration that frightens moles.

Limited success as long as the wind is blowing.

Vibrators-A battery powered vibrator attached to the top of a metal probe pushed into the ground.

Limited success as long as the flashlight batteries are working.

Water-Flood the runs with a garden hose.

Most effective during the winter months. Success depends on the length of the runs and how much water the mole buster is willing to invest.

Chewing Gum-Juicy Fruit gum (no other flavor will do) placed in the run will be ingested and plug the moles' digestive tract.

Really now! Chew the gum yourself while thinking of a sensible idea.

Fumigation-Gas cartridges or piped-in exhaust from an automobile or lawnmower.

Not reliable because the runs are often too extensive.

Poison-Toxic peanuts or grain placed in the runs.

A quick-fix favorite, but moles are insectivores that do not readily eat plant material.

Chemical Spray-Chemicals sprayed on the soil kills the moles food supply.

A drastic measure akin to cutting down the tree to get an apple. The soil needs invertebrates to provide aeration, add organic matter and allow water to seep down.

Repellant-Spray the lawn with castor bean oil.

This sometimes works, but repeat treatments are necessary. Keep in mind that castor beans are poisonous to humans.

Plants-Plant a border of marigolds or castor beans around flower beds or small areas.

May repel moles, although the method has not been proven scientifically.

Live Trap-Bury an open container below the run.

Some success but moles often die from the stress of being captured.

Kill Trap-Use harpoon or scissor-style traps.

The most reliable method of removing moles.


This Issue's Staff

Editor - Tom Cwynar
Assistant Editor - Charlotte Overby
Managing Editor - Jim Auckley
Art Editor - Dickson Stauffer
Designer - Tracy Ritter
Artist - Dave Besenger
Artist - Mark Raithel
Photographer - Jim Rathert
Photographer - Cliff White
Staff Writer - Jim Low
Staff Writer - Joan McKee
Composition - Libby Bode Block
Circulation - Bertha Bainer