Moles are mammals of the Order Insectivora. They are not to be confused with rodents. The adults measure from 5 to 8 inches (13-20 cm) in length and have dark gray or brown fur.
Their feet, nose and tail are pink. The snout (or nose) of the mole is fleshy and serves as a touch organ. Their eyes are small, sometimes concealed by fur, and only light sensitive, allowing the mole to distinguish between light and dark. The front feet are broad and are equipped with well-developed claws for digging.
The eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus), hairy-tailed mole (Parascalops breweri) and the star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata) are the most common species and. Range from the western Great Plains to the East Coast. The hairy-tailed mole is commonly found in woodland and mountain areas. The star- nosed mole is found in swampy areas and tunnels are deeper than the eastern mole. The eastern mole is the most common of the three and is often associated with lawn damage.
On the West Coast, the Townsends mole (Scapanus townsendii) occurs in Oregon and Washington, whereas the broad-footed mole (Scapanus latimanus) is a common species in California and western Nevada. The Gibb’s mole (Neuortrichus gibbsii), another West Coast species, is rare and so small that it is seldom encountered.
The primary food of most species is earthworms, however other arthropods and insect larvae found in the soil are readily eaten. However, some plant material, such as roots and bulbs, may also be consumed as they tunnel through the soil. The amount will vary with the species encountered. The eastern mole will damage bulbs and roots usually while feeding on grubs and worms. The western varieties have been known to include plant material in their diet. However, it is generally agreed that damage to planting is due to tunneling activity rather than preferences for certain roots or plants. Their appetite seems almost insatiable, since they usually eat more than their weight in a single day. This food requirement is necessary due to their extremely active life.
Moles build an extensive complex of tunnels varying in depth. Tunnels close to the surface may be visible while the deep tunnels remain concealed. Shallow tunnels that appear as raised ridges are usually mole feeding tunnels. These tunnels are generally used a few times and then abandoned. Surface activity occurs most consistently in the spring and fall of the year. Deep tunnels are used as living quarters where they retreat from cold, drought, heat and other adverse conditions. They also use the deep tunnels for rearing their young.
A mole hill is built of dirt pushed up from these deep tunnels. The number of surface ridges or dirt mounds is not indicative of the number of moles present. Depending on the species of mole, the deep tunnel may be from 6 to 24 inches (15-61 cm) below the surface. Moles are very active tunnelers and can tunnel at a rate of 12 to 15 feet (3.7-4.6 m) per hour. In favorable areas shallow tunnels can be generated at a rate of a foot per minute. Moles can be active at any time, day or night, and depending on geographic location, all year long. Most calls the PCO receives are due to the tunneling activity of the mole. The mole very seldom appears above the ground; if it does, it is usually at night during spring dispersal.
Moles usually do not share their tunnels with other moles, although some species, such as the star- nosed mole and hairy-tailed mole, will tolerate moles of the same species. Tunnels may be invaded by other animals, most notably shrews, voles, mice, rats or pocket gophers. When this happens, moles sometimes get blamed for injury to plant roots, tubers or seeds. The PCO should be familiar with typical rodent damage (teeth marks). Because of the mole’s type of teeth they do not gnaw and very seldom chew through a root or bulb.
Although trapping is the most effective method of control for moles, it requires time, patience, and knowledge of the mole’s habits to be successful. There are three types of traps. The harpoon is successful in some areas of the country, while the scissor trap is preferred in other areas. The choker trap is not as well known, but may also be effective.
Successful trapping is most likely to occur in spring and fall when moles are active within surface runs. Portions of these tunnels must be caved in and then observed the next day to see if any have been reopened. Another technique is to poke small holes in surface nuns and observe the next day; place traps in those locations which have been repaired.