Anyone who has been mowing, farming or gardening this season has noticed that it has been rather wet.
Spring has been wrought with frequent precipitation. Until just recently, we also have been spared hot temperatures that speed drying the soil.
Many people have encountered mole tunneling activity in the yards where they are laboring to keep the grass controlled. There is a direct tie between lush spring growth and visible activity of those lawn excavators, the eastern moles.
Normally now, mole activity would be less obvious. Into latter June, sun and higher temperatures typically would be baking the upper layer of soil so that moles would be less active on the surface. Lots of rainfall and delayed higher temperatures, however, have kept that upper level of soil mole-friendly because of food supply.
While his tracks are well known, most people seldom see the eastern mole.
The critter itself is none too imposing, usually 6-8 inches long and weighing 4-5 ounces. The mole has velvety gray-brown fur on its upper body and silvery gray on its undersides.
A mole’s features are weird. It has oversized, clawed, bare front feet. The palms of the feet point outward with “thumbs” down. They are effective digging tools with which the mole can virtually swim through soil like a human swims under water.
Rarely coming to the surface and confronting daylight, the mole is adapted to the underground. It has tiny eyes, but they are hidden, mostly fur covered. They only can determine darkness from light.
Its ears also seem lacking. Yet, while there are no exterior ears to drag in the dirt as it digs, the mole does have interior ears and an acute sense of hearing.
The mole has a bare, piglike tapered snout on one end and a short, naked tail on the other. Apparently, both of those mostly hairless opposites are quite sensitive to touch, which is important to underground operations based on feeling vibrations as well as hearing and scent.
This little blind critter uses the senses it has to be an effective predator, and a hungry one, too. It feeds almost exclusively on worms, grubs and other insects that it finds digging around down there in the underworld. It finds plenty of them, managing to eat upon average about two-thirds of its own weight in these invertebrates every day.
Most of the signs of mole activity we see are tunnels the animal digs just below the surface as it pushes along, finding and eating the juicy wigglers and bugs that constitute its diet. We typically see these as erratic, winding pathways of mounded sod and soil. They make an otherwise manicured lawn look rough, and mowers often scalp the tops of them.
We may see more of these now than normal because the wet conditions have allowed more worms and grubs to remain shallow in the soil. As the earth dries on top, these invertebrates are forced deeper, and moles follow their food. Feeding tunnels then grow scarce to our eyes.
A few shallow mole tunnels are more linear. Those are apt to be travel lanes between choice feeding area, concentrations of wormy/grubby soil. Because moles typically avoid the surface, travel tunnels are simply how they get around.
Meanwhile, moles do not live up there in the roots of the grasses. Their actual home territory is more often 1.5-3 feet deep. That is where there are semi-permanent tunnels, including nest chambers where the females give birth and raise youngsters. Each adult lady mole produces a single litter of 2-5 babes each spring.
The occasional pile of dirt in the yard that is called a “mole hill” is actually the tailings, the soil that is removed to make deeper tunnels.
Aside from this reproductive smattering in the spring, moles are solitary critters. On average, a mole’s home territory is as much as an acre or more. Furthermore, they are somewhat territorial, so there is not a lot of overlap between individuals.
With this solitary lifestyle, several tunnels trashing your yard are most often the work of one mole. At most, a labyrinth of mole runs is where two, maybe even three neighboring moles’ territories come together or overlap.
While moles actually do good work in aerating the soil, most people despise them because of the unsightly mounded tunnels. The want to remove that mole or moles responsible for such has created a whole catalog of phony folk tactics.
These include poking chewing gum into a run so that a mole will eat it, then die because the gum clogs its intestines. Another is hiding razor blades in a run so the mole will lacerate itself. Then, there is hiding castor beans or other toxic bait in a tunnel so the mole will poison itself (on stuff they don’t eat).
Some of these are more ridiculous than others, but none work.
Authorities say the best method is trapping with scissor- or harpoon-type traps made to kill moles. Another good approach is putting terrier breed dogs on the hunt. Many are adept at digging out and killing moles. Or ambush a mole by flipping it out with a shovel yourself.
As summer conditions take hold and the surface soil dries, mole tunneling should diminish as the critters work deeper.
They will be out of sight and out of mind, but when worms and grubs return shallower, so will the diggers.