Moles & Mole Damage in Oklahoma
Moles are often mistakenly called rodents, but they actually belong to an order of primitive mammals, the Insectivora or insect feeders. Several different species of moles cause turf damage in the United States, but it’s the Eastern mole we usually see here in the Tulsa area.
Moles present perhaps the single most frustrating lawn care problem for homeowners. Not only are the molehills unsightly, the tunnels make for dangerous situations. Step in a hole, and you could sprain your ankle. If the wheel of your lawn mower slips into one, you could scalp your lawn and end up with a big, ugly place.
Methods for eliminating moles abound, but very few actually work. OSU (and many other universities) recommends traps as the only proven way to get rid of moles. Traps are difficult to set correctly, must be placed in an active tunnel (after you figure out which one that is,) and must be checked daily and moved around. And, after all that, a new mole may move in and recolonize the old tunnels. Note: putting down preventive grub insecticide will NOT get rid of moles and will kill beneficial insects as well.
Unless you are infinitely patient, (or a die-hard DIY) it would probably be best to hire a pest control company to take care of your mole problem. We urge you not to try all those “home remedies” that you read on the internet, because they don’t work.
But if you’re the brave and persistent type, and you’d like to try eliminating the moles yourself, read on. We’ll try to empower you with a little mole knowledge!
Adult moles have a thick body, 4.5 to 6.5 inches long, with silky dark gray or black fur. The mole's keen senses of smell and touch are located on the pointed snout. Moles are practically blind. Their tiny eyes are largely concealed by fur. Despite their lack of external ears, they have an excellent sense of hearing. The most distinctive characteristic of this animal is its broad, powerful front feet which are equipped with claws and adapted for digging. They’re kind of cute, too. Don’t confuse them with gophers (pictured below,) which are rodents and aren’t as cute. Gopher tunnels are too deep to see evidence on the surface of the lawn, although they will leave mounds of dirt, usually larger than a foot across and horseshoe-shaped, with a plug of dirt in the middle.
Moles usually have one litter of three to four young in the spring. The babies are full-grown by fall. Their average life span is three years. Moles live, breed, and eat underground, but on rare occasions may venture above ground at night. They prefer meadows, open wood lots, and lawns with woods nearby since these areas are usually characterized by loose, well-drained but moist soil. Moles make their homes in a system of permanent tunnels which they dig 5-15 inches below the soil surface. Some moles will tunnel just below the ground surface and raise the sod, especially in spring and fall. They can dig surface tunnels at the rate of one foot per minute. These shallow tunnels radiate in all directions and are used only temporarily to gather food. Earthworms, grubs, other insect larvae, and adults such as ants, cutworms, and webworms are the mainstay of the mole diet. They do not feed on plants or plant roots.
Moles leave ridges or round mounds of soil less than 1' wide on the lawn from tunneling. Needless to say, these are ugly and dangerous. Although moles do not feed directly on turf roots or other plant roots or bulbs, they may cause injury to them as they dislodge plants in search of insects and earthworms. Roots may be broken off, or the uplifting of soil and plants may expose roots and cause them to dry out and die. Later, runways often provide avenues for mice to feed on plant roots.
Successful control of the mole requires some knowledge of the animal's habits, and a great deal of persistence. Many methods have been tried with limited success.
Putting down grub control is NOT the answer as many people believe. Moles eat most any insect they can find, not specifically grubs. Grubs may not even be present in a mole-infested lawn. In the past, insecticides like Chlordane (which has since been outlawed in the U.S.) were used because they eliminated all insects and also earthworms. Today's insecticides are far milder, and we also know that earthworms and many insects are beneficial to the lawn and to the balance of nature. So, in our book, insecticides are a NO.
- Baits and Gas
Many kinds of bait are available, from things that look like earthworms, to pellets that smell like castor beans. Nobody’s ever told us “Wow! Those really worked!!” Gassing tunnels is often ineffective because the gas can escape through the thin sod above the tunnels. And gas is scary. Some mole tunnel gases need to be ignited to be effective. We recommend leaving gassing to professionals. A cairn terrier might be a great solution, but then again, he would probably dig up your whole yard which would defeat the purpose.
Trapping is the best method of control, but it can be time-consuming and requires patience. First, locate the active runways by tramping down the ridges and flagging the spots flattened. Areas which are raised again the next day are main runways and should be set with traps. Traps which are not triggered should be reset in another runway each day. The star-nosed mole usually does not cause surface ridges, but instead pushes up mounds of dirt. In this case, traps must be set in runs connecting the mounds, and some digging is necessary to locate these tunnels. The best time to trap is in early spring when the first ridges are noticed, or after the first fall rains.
Harpoon traps, choker traps, and the scissors-jaw traps are available at most hardware stores. Moles are suspicious of strange objects in their burrows, so the traps are designed to be set in a spot which has been caved in by the "trapper", concealing its presence from the mole. A general description of how to use harpoon and choker traps is given below. Remember, if a trap is not sprung, reset it in another runway each day. Always check traps after a rain to make sure they are still set properly. Tamp down old tunnels to prevent mice from using them.
Be sure to locate active tunnels as described above. After leveling the ridge, set the trap with the two pointed supports astride an active runway and inserted into the ground deeply enough to prevent recoil when the trap is sprung. Position the prongs about an inch above the original runway. Raise and release the prongs several times before adjusting the trigger. This will make holes in the soil for the prongs to enter and ensure full trap action. The trigger pan needs to be set close to the flattened tunnel or it may not be triggered. A hard object (stone or wood) between trigger and sod helps ensure success. As the mole travels through the tunnel, it raises the sod and lifts the trigger pan. When the trigger pan is lifted, the prongs are released, trapping the mole. Before raising the harpoon, it is important to slice the sod to be sure the animal is dead, or you may inadvertently release him.
Be sure to locate active tunnels as described above. Lightly press down a small section of the runway with the hand or foot to make a base for the trigger pan. To set the trap, cut two slits across the tunnel for the loops. Place the loops in the slits so that the loops encircle the runway. Be sure the bottoms of the loops are at least an inch below the original passage. As the mole re-digs its tunnel, it raises the trigger. The trigger releases the loop springs, and the mole is crushed between the loops and trap frame.
Be sure to locate active tunnels as described above. Bury a large coffee can so that the top of the can is level with the bottom of the tunnel. Then, the tunnel must be reconstructed above the coffee can. As the mole moves through the tunnel, it falls into the can and cannot crawl out. Traps should be checked periodically to remove the mole.
Mole trivia: Did you know that moles' saliva will paralyze earthworms? Moles save living earthworms in their tunnels to eat later. Sometimes they save a lot of them, like an earthworm pantry.
In conclusion: Maybe it's just us, but we can't see how anyone would have time for all that trap mess! If it's any consolation, moles are actually good for your lawn. They eat about 50 pounds of insects per year, and they aerate and fertilize the soil.