Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Moles May Be Invading Your Lawn

Moles May Be Invading Your Lawn

The warm weather the past couple of weeks has allowed many people to venture into the yard and check things out. You may have noticed that the yard is lumpy and spongy, with what appears to be tunnels stretching across the lawn. This is the probably the shallow surface tunnels of Eastern Moles (Scalopus aquaticus).
Moles are omnivores, and can be identified by some unique characteristics. Moles have a hairless, pointed snout that can extend up to ½ inch in front of their mouth. Both their small eyes and the openings of the ear canals are concealed in fur. The moles forefeet are long and broad, with palms wider than they are long. The moles forefeet are designed for digging, they are webbed to the base of the claws. The back legs are small and allow the mole to turn around in the small tunnels. The average length of male moles is 4 to 7 in. and the female will be slightly smaller. The moles fur has no direction to allow them to move forward or backward at rapid speeds. The fur is very soft and has been desired for fur coats. Queen Alexandria ordered a coat made of mole fur to start a trend and reduce the mole population in Scotland.

The moles diet is mainly insects, grubs, and worms but also will eat some bulbs, but this is rare. They eat from 70% to 100% of their body weight daily. Many people think they have been hibernating but that is not true they are active all year long. Why do we see more tunnels this time of year? The surface tunnels are only used in spring, summer, and fall. The moles have deep permanent tunnels used year round as travel routes. Nest cavities and home areas, 6 inches in diameter and lined with vegetation, can be found 12 to 18 inches beneath the surface.
Moles are antisocial animals they live alone except to breed, in February and early March. They give birth to 2 to 5 large hairless young 45 days later. The young leave the nest in 5 weeks and reach maturity around one year.
Many people think that with all the tunnels appearing in their lawns that there must be a large number of moles. Moles can burrow as fast as 1 foot per minute. They eat almost constantly to meet their high energy demands. This speed and insatiable appetite makes it possible for one mole to do large areas of damage to lawns. Usually no more than 2 to 3 moles live on an acre.

Management and control is difficult. White grubs are a food source for the moles and controlling white grubs will help to a small degree. Moles also love earthworms and caches of earthworms 2 inches in diameter have been found stored in moles nest cavities. For small areas exclusion is the most effective method. Packing the soil, will decrease the desired habitat. The use of castor beans, placing chewing gum in the tunnels, and electromagnetic devices are unproven control methods. The so- called mole plant or caper spurge (Euphorbia latharis) is advertised to act as a repellent when placed around beds. There is no known research that supports this claim.
Trapping is difficult and labor intensive, but is the most effective way of control. Trap site selection and timing are critical for success. Most trapping is done on surface burrows where the mole is most active. The best time to trap is after a rain. You must set the trap on an active burrow. To find a good trap site tamp down the soil on a burrow, active burrows will be repaired within 12 to 24 hours. Traps do best when set in late afternoon or early evening. There are 2 basic traps that are recommended for moles they are the Harpoon Trap and the Scissor-jaw Trap.
The Harpoon Trap

Before starting to set traps be sure that moles are the culprit and that they are doing damage. Moles play an important part in soil management. Moles eat grubs that destroy lawns and help aerate the soil. They also mix soil and subsoil bringing nutrients closer to the surface and humus further down.
Moles can be very damaging but may also help to improve the soil in your lawn. If you would like more information please contact the extension office at 264-3061.

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