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Mole Patrol

by Patti Charron

Rare is the gardener who doesn't despise moles. Moles dig tunnels that deface lawns and gardens, drive homeowners to distraction, and push even the most reasonable individual to lie awake nights contemplating elaborate methods of mole murder. So what can be done about these pesky creatures? Is it possible to live in harmony with these sight-impaired demons? What purpose, if any, does a mole serve? More curious still, what exactly is a mole?

Sun Tzu said, "Know your enemy."

Moles are insectivores. Each and every day, despite the season, moles are on patrol for food. Since moles spend most of their lives underground, their eyesight has become superfluous. They have evolved with keen senses of smell and touch that they use to track down worms, insects, centipedes, slugs, snails, grubs, ants, cutworms, Japanese beetles and their larvae, and a host of invertebrate creatures that truly will bring ruin to your lawn and garden.

There are a number of gadgets, and "remedies" that promise to rid your property of moles. While most are relatively pricey, none of these products can boast proven effectiveness. Since a mole's diet consists solely of insects, poisons are not effective and only serve as a threat to other animals, particularly pets. Steel plates pushed into the ground towards either end of a mole tunnel won’t trap the mole; he will simply dig another tunnel. There are other devices that emit electrical impulses and annoying noises thought to drive off moles, either off the edge or off your property is not clear, but in reality the little guys will simply relocate just beyond the range of the device.

The effectiveness of chemical repellents is moot. Consider that a mole digs 100 to 150 feet of tunnel each day. Chemicals may repel the moles in the immediate area of application, but in the end only serve to drive them into other tunnels and to encourage them to create more underground pathways. Chemicals cannot fill all the airspace in the elaborate tunnel system created by moles. The loose soil will absorb some of the chemicals as well. Castor oil is touted as having a repulsive odor for moles but the efficacy is disputed.

A few of the more inhumane suggestions for ridding your property of moles are flooding and gassing. Again, the effort is nearly pointless as it is impossible to fill the tunnel system with water; the water will be absorbed into the soil long before the extensive tunnel system actually fills with water. The same is true for attempts to funnel car exhaust, gasoline and gas bombs into the tunnels. In the end, you’ll probably do more damage to the lawn or garden, as well as the environment, and perhaps yourself.

Chewing gum ingested by a mole will not gunk up his internal works and cause him to explode, despite the popular notion that it will. No mole in his right mind will eat chewing gum, especially with the smorgasbord of delights (slugs, ants, grubs) routinely spread before him. Moles eat insects and invertebrates. They do not eat chewing gum, Alka-Seltzer, boric acid, soap powder, Drano, steel wool, ground glass and the like. Moles are nearly blind but they are not stupid.

Moles allegedly do not like the smell of their own bleeding brethren, and to this end, homeowners have been know to set single-edged razor blades into the sides of mole holes or jam a fistful of thorny sticks into it. The thinking is that the moles will be sliced to ribbons, bleed to death because of their genetic inability to clot well, and then scare off their cohorts. A dead mole may well prove repulsive to the living ones, but those among the living will just move along, away from the corpse. They won’t relocate to the next block. And because they’ll all take great care to avoid the scene of the crime, you’ll most likely only have one victim for your efforts.

Box traps are sold to catch moles humanely and relocate them to more mole-friendly areas. There are no records of this being a successful enterprise, and "mole-friendly zones" have not yet been established as far as anyone knows. The fact is that your neighbor probably considers a "mole friendly zone" anywhere but her yard. The ineffectiveness quotient is just as high for the coffee-can-pushed-into-the-ground method to trap and relocate moles. And are you really willing to load up a bunch of moles into the family mini-van and drive them to a safe haven?

Homeowner might conclude that the spring-loaded traps ($49 each) or the "Mole Be-Gone Crystals" ($24.99) or a half-gallon of gasoline poured down each mole hole was the reason the lawn is finally mole-free. It is far more likely a timely coincidence. The fact is the moles ate the homeowner out of grubs and beetles and have moved on. A view to the property next door will very shortly show that the gang has relocated. And in a short while, they will move to the next property, then the next.

Contrary to popular belief, moles do not eat flower bulbs, tubers, or the roots of your grass. Moles consume 70 to 100 percent of their body weight each day in bothersome insects and invertebrates, and strictly limit their diets to these bugs. They do not eat plants or vegetation of any kind. In fact, they are constantly noshing and thereby destroying the critters that actually are nibbling away at your bulbs and tubers. It is possible for the moles to kill the grass by inadvertently separating the roots from the soil, but this is remedied with a lawn roller, or simply stamping the push-ups back into place. Be sure to water the lawn well to prevent dehydration and to re-establish the roots.

Given the vast quantities of insects and invertebrates that moles devour, they afford tremendous benefit to the garden and lawn. And as a bonus, mole tunnels aerate the soil, making it able to absorb the rain more efficiently. The tunnels are not a problem; they are generally soft and can be easily flattened with no harm done.

Since man has had lawns, moles have been a thorn in his side. Given our vast technology and advances in so many areas, the failure to discover a plausible solution to the mole problem might be sending a message: Appreciate the little guys for what they bring to the table. And get a lawn roller.

© Copyright Patti Charron and published with her kind permission.

See also:

Moles and Molecatchers

Moles and Molecatchers Guest Book

Brian Alderton, Molecatcher

Jeff Nicholls, Molecatcher

Living with Moles

Newspaper Cuttings

The Star-Nosed Mole

Albino Mole