by Keith Hansen, Extension Horticulture, Smith County
Success!! Yesssss! Finally, after a very long “dry spell”, I trapped a mole this weekend. I was seriously beginning to doubt myself, since I hadn’t caught one in many moons. And, here I am supposedly helping other folks who call regarding dealing with this aggravating creature that makes a mess of lawns and flower beds. That was written a couple of year ago. 2007 was a different year - by the end of the year, I had trapped 15 moles. I didn't do a lot different, just had a different attitude and outlook on these little creatures.
The lowly mole spends its life underground, ceaselessly searching for food. Such a small critter can really get people bent out of shape due to its tunneling activity and ability to avoid capture, often causing folks to "make mountains out of molehills".
To understand how to control moles, it helps to know a little bit about their biology and habits. The mole lives underground and is well adapted for its life of continually searching through the darkness for food. Their front feet are large and wide and the toes are webbed at the base of the sharp claws. This equips them for digging and tunneling in search of earthworms - their favorite food, and other insects. Although moles are practically blind, they have a very keen sense of smell and touch which helps them locate food.
Some folks swear there must be a hundred moles on their property, judging by the extensive tunneling and damage to their lawns. But moles are solitary mammals. It is their constant search for food which explains the never ending network of runways. Moles eat from 70 to 100 percent of their weight each day. On average, there are only 3 to 5 moles per acre, although a site with a long-established mole population could have more.
The mole's diet is mainly earthworms, supplemented by grubs, beetles and other insects. They are often blamed for eating the roots of prized plants, but vegetation makes up only a very small, insignificant part of their diet. Damage to plants is mainly from the drying out of roots in the tunnel system, and from other rodents, like mice, which also use the mole's tunnel system.
A common misconception folks have is believing that eliminating their food source will drive the moles away or starve them. As mentioned above, their main food is earthworms. It is nearly impossible to kill all earthworms, grubs and other insects in the soil. Besides, you don't want to destroy beneficial earthworms, nor needlessly apply pesticides! Moles will tear up the yard even more searching for food before they leave if insecticides have been applied to the area.
Trapping is the most practical and effective way of controlling moles, but requires persistence, perseverance and patience. Poison grain baits are not effective since moles mainly eat insects and worms and normally do not eat grain. Mole traps work based on the mole's response to a blocked burrow. It is not suspicious of dirt blocking the runway since burrows are often closed by foot traffic, equipment and animals. The mole pushes its way into a dirt blockade, reopens it, and continues on its merry way.
Mole traps take advantage of this behavior. The trap's trigger pan rests on top of the dirt blockade. If an unsuspecting mole cannot detect the trap, it pushes the dirt to clear the obstruction, lifting the trigger pan which releases the trap spring. Mole traps are available in garden centers, hardware and farm supply stores.
Moles have two main types of runways. One is a shallow network of tunnels running near the surface of the soil where they search for food. These may be used only once, infrequently or on a regular basis.
Deeper runs are the main highways regularly used traveled by moles. A mole can scurry through an open runway at about 80 feet per minute. Molehills are usually the only above ground sign of a deep runway.
Tips for Successful Trapping.
The first key to trapping is to locate a run which is used frequently. When you see a fresh runway, do not disturb it except for collapsing it with your foot in one spot only. Come back later in the day or the next morning to see if the depressed soil has been lifted. If so, then you know the mole is currently using that runway and set the trap there.
Runs which travel under or along side sidewalks, drives or around foundations may be good places to locate a trap. Runs in these locations are regularly used.
Over time, I have identified where the main mole highways are on my lot. Look for: 1) runs that have a lot of soil pushed up indicating they are major runways, 2) runs with a straightaway section, and 3) runs that have been “fixed” where the soil plug has been pushed back up.
Once you locate an active runway, depress the soil so it blocks the tunnel. Do this in only one spot so as to not arouse the mole's suspicion or throw it off course. The plug should be in a straightaway section so the mole will continue passing through the trap instead of bending around it.
Set the trap and place the trigger pan so it just rests on the soil plug. If you are working with a deeper run, dig away enough soil so the top of the soil plug is just above the tunnel. That way the pan will rest just above the top of the blocked runway.
There are three commonly available types of mole traps: the harpoon, the choker loop and the scissor trap. All three work on the same principle, although they kill moles in different ways. Many prefer the harpoon trap since it is a little easier to set, although the strong spring still requires a lot of strength to set. The scissors trap (Out-O-Sight) works well with deeper tunnels.
When setting any of the traps, make sure the legs, jaws or loops are straddling the runway. If moles encounter any part of the trap, they will avoid it, or block the trap with a plug of soil.
A plastic bucket can be placed upside down over the trap to keep children and pets from disturbing the trap.
Persistence is the key to catching moles. Buy a couple of traps, keep both of them set in active runs. If a trap doesn't spring in one location after 24 hours, check and make sure the mole didn’t tunnel under the trap without setting off the trigger. If nothing is happening in that run after a couple of days, move the trap to another active tunnel. If you catch one, reset the trap in the same location. Even though moles lead solitary lives, other moles can use the same runs.
Stick with trapping and stick with the program. Don’t give up - you'll eventually perfect your trapping technique and gain the upper hand. But, a vacuum always wants to be filled, so sooner or later, moles from neighboring properties will make their way back to yours.