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Moles are small mammals that spend most of their lives in underground burrows. They are seldom seen by humans. When seen, they frequently are mistaken for mice or shrews.
Moles are approximately 4-8 inches in length from nose to tail. They have short, powerful forefeet with broad outward-turned palms and prominent digging claws, small eyes and ears, short, black or brownish-gray velvety fur, and a somewhat elongated head and snout. The snout of the star-nosed mole, as its name suggests, is characterized by a prominent fleshy protuberance with 22 short â€śtentaclesâ€ť radiating from it. These tentacles are believed to aid the animal in sensing its environment and are found in no other mammal.
Eastern and hairy-tailed moles may be distinguished by differences in their tails. The tail of an eastern mole is short (0.6-1.2 in.) and naked whereas that of the hairy-tailed is slightly longer (0.9-1.4 in.) and covered with short, stiff hairs. Male eastern and hairy-tailed moles typically are larger in size than respective females whereas both male and female star-nosed moles are approximately equal in size. Tactile hairs on the snout, forepaws, top of the head, and tail enhance a moles sense of touch; moles have a poor sense of smell and are virtually blind (but they do detect light and dark).
Habitat: Moles live most of their lives in underground runways. Their presence may be determined by the low ridges pushed up as they move just under the soil surface in search of food. These runways, in heavily infested areas, form a vast interconnecting network. Moles dig runways to search for food and to provide protection and living space for travel, resting, and nesting.Some runways are major lanes of travel used by several moles.
Major runways often appear under fence lines, under roads or along sidewalks, lead to watering areas, or occur in other generally protected situations. The main runways are usually about 6 inches under ground level, but may be as shallow as 2 inches or as deep as 20 inches.Extremely shallow runways, immediately under lawn turf, for instance, are feeder offshoots from a main runway and are probably used only once.
The annoying mole hills are external evidence of the molesâ€™ underground tunneling activities. Moles eject up to 2 gallons of surplus dirt from tunnel workings through a lateral chimney to the surface.Moles come to the surface occasionally, mainly at night, to search for food, water, and nesting material. Migrations may occur overland also.
Life Cycle : Moles mate from late February to early March, producing young only once a year. The young, averaging three to the litter, are born from late March to early May. Young moles spend about one month in the nest and are nearly full grown when they leave. They may sometimes be distinguished from adults by a shorter snout, slightly smaller size, and pearly gray fur.
Nests are constructed underground in a fortresslike arrangement in fence lines and well-drained, slightly raised sections of fields. Large molehills (30 to 40 inches in diameter) or areas of intensive mound-building activity are probably nesting sites. Nest cavities average 9 inches in diameter and about 6 inches in height. Normally, three or four runways lead into the nest. Moles build nests of grasses or moss with a dry, inner pocket surrounded by wet, coarser grasses. Nests normally occur 5 to 18 inches under ground level.
Moles are active throughout the year. They do not hibernate or estivate. During extremely wet or dry periods, mole activity by external evidence seems to lessen. Control programs will be most successful if carried on during periods of heavy mole activity.
Damage : Moles consume between 70-100% of their body weight in food each day. They primarily feed on pest insects such as beetle larvae but they also eat earthworms and other invertebrates such as centipedes. Rarely do they eat plants and they cannot be held responsible for the destruction of seeds and bulbs. However, although they donâ€™t directly damage plants, their tunneling exposes grass roots to air and the ridges they produce while constructing the tunnels interfere with mowing. Mole tunnels are often used by other plant-eating small mammals such as voles and white-footed mice.
Most mole damage to turf occurs in spring and fall when moles are actively looking for food just beneath the ground surface. It can be distinguished from that of gophers by the raised ridges they produce when they excavate their tunnels. The mound of excavated soil at the tunnel entrance can also provide a clue as to the culprit. The entrance hole to a mole burrow is vertical in orientation and is often plugged with soil.
In addition, the excavated soil is often mounded around the hole in a similar fashion to a volcano. On the other hand, gopher entrance holes are more inclined and the soil around the entrance is on one side of the tunnel.
control : Fencing may be practical for small areas, such as flower and seed beds, and home gardens. Fencing should be made of 24-inch-wide sheet metal or hardware cloth. Bend the material lengthwise into an L-shape so you have two 12- inch sections at a 90Â° angle to one another. Dig a trench 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide; then bury the fence so that it is entirely below the soil surface. Position the fence so that the bottom of the â€śLâ€ť faces away from the area you want to protect. This will prevent moles from tunneling under the fence.
Indirect methods: A serious mole problem indicates that moles have an abundant food supply. If the food supply can be eliminated or reduced, the moles will be forced to leave the area. There are several pesticides available that will kill white grubs (June beetle larvae), other insects, and even earthworms. Inquire at your local cooperative extension office or garden center for information about an appropriate pesticide.
Frightening: Some electronic, magnetic, and vibration devices have been promoted as being effective in frightening or repelling moles. None, however, have been proven effective.
Repellents: A chemical repellent, called Mole-Med, is registered for use in Pennsylvania and has proven to be somewhat effective in tests conducted at Michigan State University. This product, made of castor bean extract, is sprayed directly onto the area where moles are to be repelled. The repellent works best on nonirrigated mineral soils. To apply, thoroughly wet the area to be treated, apply the repellent, then thoroughly soak the area again to carry the product down into the soil. Moles will relocate into nearby untreated areas, and the effectiveness of the repellent will diminish with heavy rains or lawn irrigation, so repellents have limited practicality in reducing mole problems over the long term.
Toxicants : Toxicants are often sold as the solution to mole problems. Usually peanuts, grain, or other food or pelleted materials act as carriers for the poison zinc phosphide. However, since moles feed almost entirely upon insects and worms, they do not readily take poisoned baits, and poisoning is usually not as effective as trapping in controlling moles.
Fumigants:Few burrow fumigants are labeled for moles, and fumigants are largely ineffective since moles can detect gases and quickly wall off the treated tunnels. Also, fumigants are only effective if the entire burrow system can be treated, and this often requires the cooperation of neighbors since a burrow system may extend over several lawns. Fumigants are highly toxic to wildlife, and many fumigants are Restricted Use Pesticides that can only be applied by a certified pesticide applicator.
Trapping:Trapping is the most successful and practical method of controlling moles. There are several mole traps on the market. At first glance, the highly specialized mole traps look brutal and dangerous to the user. In fact, the sudden death of the mole in such a trap is quite humane, and a reasonable amount of caution will prevent accidents to the trapper.
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