As you walk onto your carefully manicured lawn, an unsightly raised pattern of grass and broken earth catches your attention. Curiosity gets the better of you. You step on the raised ground, and it suddenly gives way. Has this ever happened to you?
Or maybe this: You're surprised to find mounds of dirt ranging from the size of a baseball to a basketball that have appeared seemingly out of nowhere.
If these scenes sound familiar, Alan Huot has some disheartening news for you. Sorry, you have moles in your yard.
"Tunneling and mounds of dirt thrown onto the lawn are classic signs of mole activity," said Huot, who lives in East Granby, Connecticut, and has more than 30 years of experience in controlling wildlife pests and nuisances ranging from moles to beavers to coyotes.
Don't despair, though, said Huot, a National Wildlife Control Operators Association certified wildlife control professional. "There are some practical things homeowners can do to get rid of moles."
The most effective method, he said, is trapping. When shopping for a mole trap, Huot advises homeowners to consider several important factors. These include:
- Efficiency. Will the trap catch moles?
- Safety. Many traps have dangerous features such as sharp spears or a device that acts as a strong choker. Many mole traps protrude above ground and could pose a potential danger to children and pets.
- Cost. This becomes especially important if many traps are needed.
- Longevity. Can traps be used for more than one season?
There are three common types of traps, Huot said. They are:
- Spear-type mole trap: This is a very common trap that can be found in virtually every hardware store, Huot said. It does have spears, he pointed out, so parents should be aware that it could be a problem for unsupervised children.
- Out O'Sight Mole Trap: This trap can also be purchased in many places and has the added benefit of being very powerful. However, Huot advises homeowners that it can be a little tricky to set properly.
- NoMol Mole Trap: This is a trap that Huot became familiar with in the early 1990s. He became its largest distributor and then purchased the company that made it. The Nomol is now part of the product offering of Wildlife Control Supplies, a business that Huot and his wife, Carol, founded in 1998 to meet the equipment and educational needs of the professional wildlife control industry. Huot said that this trap is not quite as common to homeowners as the others, but he described it as the safest of the three as it sits completely below the surface of the ground and is highly effective because it goes right down into a mole's tunnel.
There are two primary reasons homeowners fail to catch moles with traps, Huot said. The first is that they invariably place the trap in the wrong spot. "To be effective, traps have to be placed in the traveling tunnels, which are the longest and straightest tunnels," Huot said. The second, he said, is that homeowners typically only set out one trap, whereas professional wildlife control specialists will set out many.
Moles' food sources
Believe it or not, if you've got moles it's because you've got something good going on underground in your lawn: earthworms. "Earthworms are the No. 1 source of food for moles," Huot said. "As long as there is an abundance of earthworms in a lawn, it is a target for moles. But, since earthworms are beneficial to a lawn, you should never try to eradicate them."
Moles, which are insectivores, will also eat insects such as ants and certain beetle larvae, commonly known as grubs. Huot believes this has led to a misconception among homeowners that can lead do-it-yourself mole control to fail. "There is a widely held notion among consumers that a grub control treatment for their lawn will resolve or mitigate their mole problem," Huot said. "The assumption is that if you get rid of the grubs the moles will leave. My contention is that while a grub control treatment or program will perhaps benefit the lawn, the moles will still live happy and fat because their No. 1 food source is earthworms!"
In other words, trying to control the moles' food source is a difficult strategy, thanks to moles' varied diets. Aside from traps, the only other options for removing moles are unacceptable to many people — poisons and chemicals. Poisons could potentially harm children and pets, as well as predators that eat moles, and chemicals could kill or drive off beneficial wildlife such as earthworms.
Traps are the best DIY option for getting rid of moles, Huot said — unless you live in a state that bans mole traps. Most states consider mole traps to be pest control devices, so they aren't necessarily regulated like other traps. he said. However, he pointed out that some states such as Massachusetts do not allow any trap that grips an animal's body. "Hence, there isn't a mole trap on the market that is legal in Massachusetts," he said.
Repellents may not be a good way to rid your yard of moles, but they can help prevent moles from moving in to begin with. Or, if you already have moles in part of your property, repellents might at least help you protect a prized section of your lawn or garden from becoming riddled with mole hills or mole tunnels.
Castor oil is one common mole repellent, although there is some dispute about its efficacy. Tests have shown some benefits from castor oil with eastern moles, according to the San Francisco Chronicle's Home Guides, although evidence is lacking for western moles. You can buy castor oil repellents in stores, typically pellets or liquids, that are designed to drive moles away with a mixture of castor oil and other offensive ingredients. You could also make your own version; Home Guides recommends mixing 6 ounces of castor oil into 2 gallons of water, along with 2 tablespoons of detergent. Use about one-sixth of this solution for every 1,000 square feet of soil, spraying before it rains or watering the soil afterward to help it soak in.
Sonic repellents are another option for preventing moles from infiltrating an area. These often take the form of spikes that are slid into the soil, where their sonic vibrations can scare away moles. The frequency isn't audible to humans, and should pose no danger to children, pets or non-target wildlife. As with castor oil, however, this is more about prevention than getting rid of moles that are already in your yard.
Facts about moles in your yard
Now that you know how to trap and repel moles, here are a few facts about moles that might help your efforts:
- Seven species of moles are prevalent throughout the United States with the exception of a few states in the upper Midwest and West such as the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming. Different species occur in different parts of the country. The two most common are the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaricus) and the star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata). Both occur east of the Rockies. Huot thinks it's possible that some areas of the country that have milder winters could have more moles per yard because moles would have longer periods to forage for food in these regions than in those with severe winters.
- Moles are most active during three different times of the day: 2-7 a.m., 11-4 p.m., and 8-11 p.m. Males are more active in February and March when they are searching for receptive females. On the other hand, females are more active in May and June when they need more food to nurse their young.
- Moles, which can dig at approximately 18 feet per hour, make shallow tunnels near the surface and deep tunnels. The deep tunnels, which can be anywhere from two inches to five feet underground, are the ones that result in the mounds of dirt on a lawn.
- The number of mounds are not an indicator of the number of moles.
- All moles can swim. The star-nosed mole is semiaquatic and often obtains its food underwater. Members of this species are usually found in low-lying areas near water. In fact, their tunnels may exit into ponds or streams.
Editor's note: This story has been updated since it was first published in April 2015.