OTHER MAMMALS: Moles
Yates and Pedersen (1982)
list seven North American species of moles. They are the
eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus), hairy-tailed mole (Parascalops
breweri), star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata),
broad-footed mole (Scapanus latimanus), Townsend’s mole
(Scapanus townsendii), coast mole (Scapanus orarius) and
shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii).
The mole discussed here is
usually referred to as the eastern mole (Scalopus
aquaticus). It is an insectivore, not a rodent, and
is related to shrews and bats.
True moles may be
distinguished from meadow mice (voles), shrews, or
pocket gophers—with which they are often confused—by
noting certain characteristics. They have a hairless,
pointed snout extending nearly 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) in
front of the mouth opening. The small eyes and the
opening of the ear canal are concealed in the fur; there
are no external ears. The forefeet are very large and
broad, with palms wider than they are long. The toes are
webbed to the base of the claws, which are broad and
depressed. The hind feet are small and narrow, with
slender, sharp claws.
Average Dimensions and
Males : Average
total length, 7 inches (17.6 cm) Average length of tail,
1 1/4 inches (3.3 cm) Average weight, 4 ounces (115 g)
total length, 6 5/8 inches (16.8 cm) Average length of
tail, 1 1/4 inches (3.3 cm) Average weight, 3 ounces (85
2. Range of the eastern mole in North America.
Out of the seven species
that occur in North America, three inhabit lands east of
the Rocky Mountains (Yates and Pedersen 1982). The
eastern mole is the most common and its range is shown
in figure 2. The star-nosed mole is most common in
northeastern United States and southeastern Canada,
sharing much of the same range as the hairy-tailed mole.
The remaining four species are found west of the Rocky
Mountains. The Townsend mole and the coast mole are
distributed in the extreme northwest corner of the
United States and southwest Canada. The broad-footed
mole is found in southern Oregon and throughout the
coastal region of California excluding the Baja
peninsula. Finally, the shrew mole is also found along
the West Coast from Santa Cruz County, California, to
southern British Columbia (Yates and Pedersen 1982).
The mole lives in the
seclusion of underground burrows, coming to the surface
only rarely, and then often by accident. Researchers
believe that the mole is a loner. On several occasions
two or even three moles have been trapped at the same
spot, but that does not necessarily mean they had been
living together in a particular burrow. Networks of
runways made independently occasionally join otherwise
Because of their food
requirements, moles must cover a larger amount of area
than do most animals that live underground. The home
range of a male mole is thought to be almost 20 times
that of a male plains pocket gopher. Three to five moles
per acre (7 to 12 per ha) is considered a high
population for most areas in the Great Plains.
Deep runways lead from the
mole’s den to its hunting grounds. The denning area
proper consists of irregular chambers here and there
connected with the deep runways. The runways follow a
course from 5 to 8 inches (12.7 to 20.3 cm) beneath the
surface of the ground. The chambers from which these
runs radiate are about the size of a quart jar.
Most of a mole’s runway
system is made up of shallow tunnels ranging over its
hunting ground. These tunnels may not be used again or
they may be re-traversed at irregular intervals.
Eventually, they become filled by the settling soil,
especially after heavy showers. In some cases, moles
push soil they have excavated from their deep runways
into the shallow tunnels. These subterranean hunting
paths are about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches (3.2 to 3.8 cm) in
diameter. Moles usually ridge up the surface of the
soil, so their tunnels can be readily followed. In wet
weather, runways are very shallow; during a dry period
they range somewhat deeper, following the course of
Moles make their home
burrows in high, dry spots, but they prefer to hunt in
soil that is shaded, cool, moist, and populated by worms
and grubs. This preference accounts for the mole’s
attraction to lawns and parks. In neglected orchards and
natural woodlands, moles work undisturbed. The ground
can be infiltrated with runways. Moles commonly make
their denning areas under portions of large trees,
buildings, or sidewalks.
The maze of passages that
thread the soil provides protective cover and traffic
for several species of small mammals. Voles (meadow
mice), white-footed mice, and house mice live in and
move through mole runways, helping themselves to grains,
seeds, and tubers. The mole, however, often gets blamed
for damaging these plants. Moles “swim” through soil,
often near the ground surface, in their search for
worms, insects, and other foods. In doing so, they may
damage plants by disrupting their roots (Fig. 3).
The teeth of a mole (see
Fig. 1) indicate the characteristics of its food and
general behavior. In several respects moles are much
more closely related to carnivorous or flesh-eating
mammals than to rodents. The mole’s diet consists mainly
of the insects, grubs, and worms it finds in the soil
(Table 1). Moles are thought to damage roots and tubers
by feeding on them, but rodents usually are to blame.
Moles eat from 70% to 100%
of their weight each day. A mole’s appetite seems to be
insatiable. Experiments with captive moles show that
they will usually eat voraciously as long as they are
supplied with food to their liking. The tremendous
amount of energy expended in plowing through soil
requires a correspondingly large amount of food to
supply that energy. Moles must have this food at
1. Stomach contents of 100 eastern moles:
3. Moles “swim” through soil, often near the ground
surface, in their search for worms, insects, and other
foods. In doing so, they may damage plants by disrupting
General Biology, Reproduction, and Behavior
Moles prefer loose, moist
soil abounding in grubs and earthworms. They are most
commonly found in fields and woods shaded by vegetation,
and are not able to maintain existence in hard, compact,
The mole is not a social
animal. Moles do not hibernate but are more or less
active at all seasons of the year. They are busiest
finding and storing foods during rainy periods in
The gestation period of
moles is approximately 42 days. Three to five young are
born, mainly in March and early April.
The moles have only a few
natural enemies because of their secluded life
underground. Coyotes, dogs, badgers, and skunks dig out
a few of them, and occasionally a cat, hawk, or owl
surprises one above ground. Spring floods are probably
the greatest danger facing adult moles and their young.
and Damage Identification
Moles remove many damaging
insects and grubs from lawns and gardens. However, their
burrowing habits disfigure lawns and parks, destroy
flower beds, tear up the roots of grasses, and create
havoc in small garden plots.
It is important to
properly identify the kind of animal causing damage
before setting out to control the damage. Moles and
pocket gophers are often found in the same location and
their damage is often confused. Control methods differ
for the two species.
Moles leave volcano-shaped
hills (Fig. 4a) that are often made up of clods of soil.
The mole hills are pushed up from the deep tunnels and
may be 2 to 24 inches (5 to 60 cm) tall. The number of
mole hills is not a measure of the number of moles in a
given area. Surface tunnels (Fig. 4b) or ridges are
indicative of mole activity.
Pocket gopher mounds are
generally kidney-shaped and made of finely sifted and
cloddy soil (Fig. 4c). Generally, gophers leave larger
mounds than moles do. Gopher mounds are often built in a
line, indicative of a deeper tunnel system.
Moles are unprotected in
most states. See state and local laws for types of
traps, toxicants, and other methods of damage control
that can be used.
Damage Prevention and Control Methods
For small areas, such as
seed beds, install a 24-inch (61-cm) roll sheet metal or
hardware cloth fence. Place the fence at the ground
surface and bury it to a depth of at least 12 inches (30
cm), bent out at a 90o angle (Fig. 5).
In practice, packing the
soil with a roller or reducing soil moisture may reduce
a habitat’s attractiveness to moles. Packing may even
kill moles if done in the early morning or late evening.
Milky-spore disease is a
satisfactory natural control for certain white grubs,
one of the mole’s major food sources. It may take
several years, however, for the milky-spore disease to
become established. Treatments are most effective when
they are made on a community-wide basis. The spore dust
can be applied at a rate of 2 pounds per acre (2.3
kg/ha) and in spots 5 to 10 feet (1.5 to 3m) apart (1
level teaspoon [4 g] per spot). If you wish to try
discouraging moles by beginning a control program for
white grubs, contact your local extension agent for
Because moles feed largely
on insects and worms, the use of certain insecticides
may reduce their food supply, causing them to leave the
area. However, before doing so, they may increase their
digging in search of food, possibly increasing damage to
turf or garden areas. Check local sources of
insecticides for controlling grubs. Follow the label
instructions for use.
Fig. 4a. Moles push dirt through vertical tunnels onto
surface of ground. Mole hill Fig.
4b. Ridge caused by tunneling of mole under sod.
Plug Gopher mound Mole tunnel and hill Fig. 4c.
Comparison of gopher mound and mole hill. Mole fence
Some electronic, magnetic,
and vibrational devices have been promoted as being
effective in frightening or repelling moles. None,
however, have been proven effective.
No chemical products are
registered or effective for repelling moles. Borders of
marigolds may repel moles from gardens, although this
method has not been scientifically tested.
Since moles normally do
not consume grain, toxic grain baits are seldom
effective. Two poisons are federally registered for use
against moles. Ready-to-use grain baits containing
strychnine are sold at nurseries or garden supply
Recent work by Elshoff and
Dudderar at Michigan State University reported on the
use of Orco Mole Bait, a chlorophacinone pellet which is
used in Washington and some other states under 24(c)
permits for mole damage control. Even though the
researchers stated the use of this toxicant is a highly
effective and easily applied mole control technique,
there are disadvantages. Two or more successive
treatments are often required. An average of 21 1/2 days
was required to achieve zero damage on treated dry soil
and 39 days on treated irrigated soils.
Two fumigants, aluminum
phosphide and gas cartridges, are federally registered
for use against moles (see Supplies and Materials).
Aluminum phosphide is a Restricted Use Pesticide. These
fumigants have the greatest effectiveness when the
materials are placed in the mole’s deep burrows, not in
the surface runways. Golf course owners, however, report
that moles can be repelled from surface tunnels by
placing aluminum phosphide pellets in them. Since state
pesticide registrations vary, check with your local
extension or USDA-APHIS-Wildlife Services office for
information on toxicants and repellents that are legal
in your area. Care should be taken when using chemicals.
Read and follow label instructions when using toxicants
Trapping is the most
successful and practical method of getting rid of moles.
There are several mole traps on the market. Each, if
properly handled, will give good results. The traps are
set over a depressed portion of the surface tunnel. As a
mole moves through the tunnel, it pushes upward on the
depressed tunnel roof and trips the broad trigger pan of
the trap. The brand names of the more common traps are:
Victor® mole trap, Out O’ Sight®, and Nash® (choker
loop) mole trap (Fig. 6). The Victor® trap has sharp
spikes that impale the mole when the spikes are driven
into the ground by the spring. The Out O’ Sight® trap
has scissorlike jaws that close firmly across the
runway, one pair on either side of the trigger pan. The
Nash® trap has a choker loop that tightens around the
mole’s body. Others include the Easy-Set mole
eliminator, Cinch mole trap, and the Death-Klutch gopher
Fig. 6. Mole traps: listed
in counter-clockwise order
(a) Out O’ Sight® (scissor-jawed), (b) Victor®
(harpoon), and (c) Nash® (choker loop).
These traps are well
suited to moles because the mole springs them when
following its natural instinct to reopen obstructed
Success or failure in the
use of these devices depends largely on the operator’s
knowledge of the mole’s habits and of the trap
Fig. 7. A network of mole
runways in a yard. The arrowheads indicate good
locations to set traps. Avoid the
twisting surface ridges and do not place traps on top of
To set a trap properly,
select a place in the surface runway where there is
evidence of fresh mole activity and where the burrow
runs in a straight line (Fig. 7). Dig out a portion of
the burrow, locate the tunnel, and replace the soil,
packing it firmly where the trigger pan will rest (Fig.
To set the harpoon or
impaling-type trap, raise the spring, set the safety
catch, and push the supporting spikes into the ground,
one on either side of the runway (Fig. 9). The trigger
pan should just touch the earth where the soil is packed
down. Release the safety catch and allow the impaling
spike to be forced down into the ground by the spring.
This will allow the spike to penetrate the burrow when
the trap is sprung later. Set the trap and leave it. Do
not tread on or disturb any other portion of the mole’s
set a scissor-jawed trap, dig out a portion of a
straight surface runway, and repack it with fine soil.
Set the trap and secure it by a safety hook with its
jaws forced into the ground. It should straddle the
runway (Fig. 10a) until the trigger pan touches the
packed soil between the jaws. The points of the jaws are
set about 1 inch (2.5 cm) below the mole’s runway and
the trigger pan should rest on the portion as previously
described. Care should be taken to see that the trap is
in line with the runway so the mole will have to pass
directly between the jaws. In heavy clay soils be sure
to cut a path for the jaws (Fig. 10b) so they can close
quickly. The jaws of this trap are rather short, so be
sure the soil on the top of the mole run is low enough
to bring the trap down nearer to the actual burrow. Set
the triggers on both traps so that they will spring
easily (Fig. 11). Remember to release the safety hook
before releasing the trap. Be careful when handling
To set a choker trap, use
a garden trowel to make an excavation across the tunnel.
Make it a little deeper than the tunnel and just the
width of the trap. Note the exact direction of the
tunnel from the open ends, and place the set trap so
that its loop encircles this course (Fig. 12). Block the
excavated section with loose, damp soil from which all
gravel and debris have been removed. Pack the [Fig. 9.
Set the harpoon-type trap directly over the runway so
that its supporting stakes straddle the runway and its
spikes go into the runway.] soil firmly underneath the
trigger pan with your fingers and settle the trap so
that the trigger rests snugly on the built-up soil.
Finally, fill the trap hole with enough loose soil to
cover the trap level with the trigger pan and to exclude
all light from the mole burrow.
Fig. 8a. Excavation of a mole tunnel is the Fig. 8b.
Replace the soil loosely in the excavation. first step
in setting a mole trap.
Fig. 10a. Set the
scissor-jawed trap so that the jaws straddle the runway.
Fig. 10b. In heavy soils, make a path for the jaws to
travel so they can close quickly.
If a trap fails to catch a mole after 2 days, it can
mean the mole has changed its habits, the runway was
disturbed too much, the trap was improperly set, or the
trap was detected by the mole. In any event, move the
trap to a new location.
Fig. 12. The choker loop trap is set so that the loop
encircles the mole’s runway.
If one cares to take the
time, moles can be caught alive. Examine tunnels early
in the morning or evening where fresh burrowing
operations have been noted. Quietly approach the area
where the earth is being heaved up. Quickly strike a
spade into the ridge behind the mole and throw the
animal out onto the surface. A mole occasionally can be
driven to the surface by flooding a runway system with
water from a hose or ditch. Another method is to bury a
3-pound (1.4-kg) coffee can or a wide-mouth quart (0.95
l) glass jar in the path of the mole and cover the top
of the burrow with a board (Fig. 13).
Fig. 13. A mole can be live-captured in a pit trap. Be
sure to use a board or other object to shut out all
light. Cave in the runway just in front of the jar on
Nearly everyone has heard
of a surefire home remedy for controlling moles. In
theory, various materials placed in mole tunnels cause
moles to die or at least leave the area. Such cures
suggest placing broken bottles, ground glass, razor
blades, thorny rose branches, bleaches, various
petroleum products, sheep dip, household lye, chewing
gum, and even human hair in the tunnel. Other remedies
include mole wheels, pop bottles, windmills, bleach
bottles with wind vents placed on sticks, and similar
gadgets. Though colorful and sometimes decorative, these
gadgets add nothing to our arsenal of effective mole
Another cure-all is the
so-called mole plant or caper spurge (Euphorbia latharis).
Advertisers claim that when planted frequently
throughout the lawn and flower beds, such plants
supposedly act as living mole repellents. No known
research supports this claim. Castor beans are also
supposed to repel moles. Caution must be used, however,
since castor beans are poisonous to humans. Several
electromagnetic devices or “repellers” have been
marketed for the control of rats, mice, gophers, moles,
ants, termites, and various other pests. Laboratory
tests have not proven these devices to be effective.
Unfortunately, there are no short cuts or magic wands
when controlling moles.
Economics of Damage and Control
Perhaps more problems are
encountered with moles than with any other single kind
of wild animal. Unfortunately, people lack an
appreciation of the importance of moles and the
difficulty of gaining complete control where habitats
are attractive to moles.
Before initiating a
control program for moles, be sure that they are truly
out of place. Moles play an important role in the
management of soil and of grubs that destroy lawns.
Moles work over the soil and subsoil. Only a part of
this work is visible at the surface. Tunneling through
soil and shifting of soil particles permits better
aeration of the soil and subsoil, carrying humus farther
down and bringing the subsoil nearer the surface where
the elements of plant food may be made available.
Moles eat harmful lawn
pests such as white grubs. They also eat beneficial
earthworms. Stomach analyses show that nearly two-thirds
of the moles studied had eaten white grubs.
If the individual mole is
not out of place, consider it an asset. If a particular
mole or moles are where you do not want them, remove the
moles. If excellent habitat is present and nearby mole
populations are high, control will be difficult. Often
other moles will move into recently vacated areas.
Figures 1 and 4 from
Schwartz and Schwartz (1981).
Figures 6, 8, 9, 10, 11,
12 and 13 adapted from various sources by Jill Sack
For Additional Information
Dudderar, G. R. Moles.
Univ. Michigan. Coop. Ext. Serv. Bull. E-863, 1 p.
Elshoff, D. K. and G. R.
Dudderar. 1989. The efeness of Orco mole bait in
controlling mole damage. Proc. Eastern Wildl.10magerol
Conf. 4: 205-209.
Godfrey, G., and P.
Crowcroft. 1960. The life of the mole. London Museum
Press, 152 pp.
Henderson, F. R. 1989.
Controlling nuisance moles. Coop. Ext. Serv. Kansas
State Univ. C-701, Manhattan.
Holbrook, H. T. and R. M.
Timm. 1986. Moles and their control. NebGuide G86-777.
Univ. Nebraska. Coop. Ext. Lincoln. 4 pp.
San Julian, G. J. 1984.
Moles. Coop. Ext. Serv. North Carolina State Univ.
NCADCM No. 134. 3 pp.
Schwartz, C. W. and E. R.
Schwartz. 1981. The wild mammals of Missouri. rev. ed.
Univ. Missouri Press, Columbia. 356 pp.
Silver, J. and A. W.
Moore. 1933. Mole control. US Dep. Agric., Farmers Bull.
No. 1716, Washington, D.C.
Yates, T. L. and R. J.
Pedersen. 1982. Moles. Pages 37-51 in J. A. Chapman and
G. A. Feldhamer, eds. Wild mammals of North America:
biology, management, and economics. The Johns Hopkins
Univ. Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
Scott E. Hygnstrom, Robert
M. Timm, Gary E. Larson
PREVENTION AND CONTROL OF
WILDLIFE DAMAGE — 1994
Division Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of Nebraska -Lincoln
United States Department
of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection
Service Animal Damage Control
Great Plains Agricultural
Council Wildlife Committee