What are moles?
Moles are small mammals who live primarily underground and are adapted to a lifestyle that includes a lot of digging. The word mole, when talking about animals, commonly refers to the ‘true mole’. This animal belongs to the family Talpidae in the order Eulipotyphla and is mostly found in North America, Asia, and Europe. Although some other animals such as the shrew mole and desman are also called by the same name they don’t scientifically belong to the same category/family of animals as the true mole.
A female mole is called a ‘sow’, the male is called a ‘boar’, and a group of moles is called a ‘labour’. The term used to refer to these creatures used to be ‘moldwarp’ in Middle English. There were similar terms in Germanic languages, and ultimately the word meant dirt tosser or one who throws soil. That is actually pretty much exactly what moles do for most of their lives.
Moles are also widely known pests who indirectly harm human activities like gardening, and we’ll get into more detail about that later.
What do moles look like?
Moles are very small creatures. Usually, if you were to measure them, they’d be about 14 centimeters long with a tail measuring about 2.8 centimeters. Their bodies are shaped like a cylinder and they have strong shoulders and front limbs for digging. Their bodies are covered in thick, short black fur that stands up and tends to cover and hide their tiny eyes. The density and shape of the fur help prevent soil from getting into the crevices between it when the mole is passing through a tunnel or digging. Their fore-limbs are shaped almost like spades and are quite broad while their front limbs have digits and are long and clawed. This helps them with digging. Moles also have small, pink, and hairless snouts along with non-external ears.
What is the difference between male and female moles?
When it comes to moles, there’s not much of a shocking difference between the two genders (sexual dimorphism), other than the fact that in most cases, the male is larger than the female. However, even this isn’t that big of a deal as these creatures tend not to grow beyond 10 inches or 15 centimeters.
Where do moles live?
Mole habitats tend to be mostly underground. They are fossorial, which means that they spend a lot of time digging underground tunnels and burrows. These creatures are found in various kinds of habitats such as woodlands, meadows, wetlands, grassland, riparian habitats, and desert habitats as well. Basically, any area that has soil deep and malleable enough to dig into and make a home in. It really depends on the species of the mole where their main habitat is. They like moist and loamy soil that is rich in little insects like earthworms for them to eat.
In America, they can be found in the Southern Great Plains which include the states of Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas. They can also be found in the Eastern states of America. Moles live in every continent except Antarctica and South America. Another type of mole, the shrew mole, can be found on the West Coast of America.
How many different types of moles are there? What are each type’s main features?
There are several different types of moles:
Some species are small, while others are large. Take the American shrew mole, for example. This mole is the smallest type of mole, weighing only 7-11 grams and having a body just between 3 to 4 centimeters. The American mole’s tail is also shorter. In comparison, the largest type of mole is the Russian desman. Its weight tends to vary between 100 to 220 grams and its size can measure up to a surprising 22 centimeters. The tail is also much longer, almost as long as its body.
In between, there are so many other types of moles, including the Old World mole species. There are 9 species that fall under this category, and they all belong to the genus Talpa. They are of a median weight, varying between 65 to 120 grams and a body that is between 9 to 18 centimeters long. The length of their tails is very short, similar to the American shrew mole.
There are other types of moles that differ from the typical idea that you might have of a mole. These include Japanese, American, and Asian shrew moles. They look more similar to shrews than moles, despite being well, moles. Their bodies are not as adapted to digging. They have large external ears that can either peak out from the fur or be hidden by it, depending on the type. If it is Uropsilus, then the ears go beyond the fur, and if it is Urotrichus, the ears are hidden. They have tails almost as long as their entire bodies and their small claws and hands look similar to those of shrews but with flatter palms.
These shrew moles spend a significantly larger part of their time nearer to the surface or above the ground. They look for food in subsurface level, going through leaf litter and easy to dig, moist, and soft topsoil making tiny tunnels that seem like shallow troughs. However, when the need arises, they also do make deeper passageways that tend to be a tad bit more complicated and about 30 centimeters below the surface level of the ground.
Another type of mole, known as the star-nosed mole, looks mostly like a typical mole but its tail is larger while its forefeet are a little bit smaller. They have a muzzle that has a tip of 22, constantly moving, fleshy tentacles. They are very sensitive. Aside from touch, they can also detect ground vibrations and the electricity that its preys’ bodies generate. While this mole, like most others, digs deep tunnels, it also searches for its food nearer to the surface and in water. It is capable of swimming and diving very well.
The only mole who is good at climbing and swimming is the American shrew. It also happens to be alone as the sole North American mole which nests above ground. Different moles have different habits. Russian and Pyrenean desmans nest in burrows. They are amphibious and look for food underwater. They also look different from typical moles. They have webbed feet whose ends have a fringe of hair. Their fur repels water and they are capable of closing their nostrils and the openings of their ears. Their tails are vertically flat and are fringed with very stiff hairs. Their feet and tail help them to move through the water.
What is their lifestyle?
Moles are nocturnal creatures and are awake during the night, digging a network of underground tunnels. They spend most of their time in their self-made tunnels, which means that their sleeping, feeding, and even breeding is done inside. Moles rarely show up to the ground’s surface, and even if every so often they do come up, they will only ever show their heads or snouts. The reason they are able to live so easily in their tunnels is because of their sense of orientation. It is very strong and helps them navigate their tunnels and to mentally keep a map of them. While moles are mostly seen during the fall and spring season, they are actually active year-round.
One thing moles are well known for are molehills. There is a saying: ‘to make mountains out of molehills,’ that has existed for hundreds of years. This saying has made moles– or at least their molehills– a commonly known thing. It means to make a small issue into a large one. Moles don’t always make molehills but when they sense that the area they live in, is dangered to being flooded, they make fortresses that can be up to a meter or so in height and are known as molehills. These ‘’hills’’ contain various circular tunnels as well as a nest chamber. The issue then arises when these molehills and the moles’ tunnels become reasons for damage to human activities. The tunnels and molehills undermine plant roots and kill them as well. This is why moles are seen by many as pests.
Are moles social or solitary creatures?
For the most part, they are believed to be solitary creatures. Moles like to stay alone, and only ever really interact when they meet each other to mate. They keep out of each other’s way and territories. If any two male moles meet, they tend to fight viciously. The hairs on the tip of their tails are very sensitive, they help the mole get information about its surroundings when they brush it against the tunnel roof.
What do they eat?
Moles are insectivores and carnivores. They mostly only eat tiny invertebrates which also live underground. Examples of common mole prey include; beetle and fly larvae and earthworms. They are also capable of catching small mice if they end up near the entrance of the mole’s burrow. Moles have the ability to store their prey due to a special toxin that is present in their saliva. This toxin paralyzes earthworms, so instead of having to hunt every time they’re hungry, moles just create underground storage spaces, much like larders, for their paralyzed worms. Storage isn’t much of an issue either when it comes to these larders, as some of them can store thousands of earthworms at a time.
When it’s time for dinner, the moles squeeze the worm before eating it in order to dispose of the dirt it has consumed. They have a huge appetite and can often eat their entire body weight in food in just a single day.
How do they reproduce?
When breeding season comes around, male moles make their tunnels larger in hopes of being able to find a potential female mate. Once they have found a mate and they have bred, they create a nest chamber. This chamber is spherical and is lined using dry plant materials. The period of gestation is 4 weeks. Once it is done, the female mole will give birth to 3 to 4 babies. Baby moles are initially hairless and are called pups. After about two weeks, the pups start growing hair. They are weaned at around four to five weeks and when they are 33 days old they leave the nest. Once 5 to 6 weeks have passed, the pups leave their mother and their home for good. According to YPTE, moles usually have a lifespan of three years. Female moles give birth to one litter in a single year.
Do they bite? And if they do, can they cause diseases like rabies?
Moles, while capable of biting, are not prone to do so. They rarely ever do and according to research even though they do have the ability to carry rabies, no case of rabies through mole bite has been recorded.
Are they harmful to humans?
Moles are not directly and medically harmful to humans. In fact, a lot of the insects that they eat are actually those insects that damage our plants. However, their activities, like digging tunnels, eating worms, and making molehills can be more than a nuisance. So, no, moles are not harmful, they’re only a source of annoyance because they ruin yards, gardens, agricultural fields, etc. This is the reason why they are considered as pests.
Moles alone are not too hard to deal with but their numerous tunnels can pave way for several other pests into your garden as well such as Voles and Mice. These creatures will then eat plant roots and seeds from the lawn. This way, even a small infestation of moles can cause huge issues in the long run. That’s why it is important to take preventative measures against moles from the get-go.
The good news is that they aren’t planning on coming inside your house. They don’t like noise and prefer to live in the soil.
How to prevent a mole infestation?
Just having moles does not mean that you actually have a problem. Moles aerate the soil and they eat harmful insects. The downsides are that you may see raised dirt from their tunnels and when tunnels go along sidewalks and driveways the dirt may flow over. But as a general rule, moles are beneficial. But if you feel they need to go, here is my advice:
- Make sure that the soil in your lawn or fields is well-drained and dried. This helps to avoid moles because they like moist and loamy soil. By draining your lawn, you make it undesirable for them.
- Water your garden less. This is not an ideal option. However, depending on the type of plants you have, you can try to harden the soil by watering it less and making your garden a less desirable habitat for moles. Hard soil is difficult to dig into and create tunnels in, which is basically the whole mole lifestyle.
- Plant plants that moles dislike. Plant them around your garden to prevent these pests. These plants are marigolds, allium, and daffodils. They are a safe and easy way to repel moles.
- Noise. By using certain devices that emit buzzing sounds or buying or adopting a pet like a dog that barks a lot, you can easily deter moles. Even cats can be a good option to discourage moles from coming into your garden.
Are there possibilities of a mole infestation?
Unless you live in the two places in the world where moles don’t come, there is a possibility of moles. If your area has fields or a garden which is deep enough, or it falls into any of these following categories of land, there is a possibility of a mole infestation: woodlands, meadows, wetlands, grassland, riparian habitats, and desert habitats.
What are the signs of different types of mole infestations?
The most obvious thing would be if you saw a mole yourself. They are peculiar-looking creatures and their unique characteristics make them hard to miss if they are ever seen above the ground. But the truth is that there is a very low likelihood of people seeing moles, especially above ground. At least in the daytime, you probably won’t see them, as they are nocturnal creatures.
The easiest way to identify if there is a mole infestation in your lawn are visible signs of something having dug underground on the surface. There would be holes in the lawn and raised ridges around holes in the lawn. The plants might start to die and they may leave mounds of dirt in their digging efforts and leave them in various areas of the lawn. These mounds and piles lose dirt quite easily and can damage the lawn as well.
How to cure a mole infestation?
First, make sure that the infestation is one by moles. You don’t want to accidentally mistake another pest for a mole and then waste your money on useless treatments. You might mistake a mole for a gopher or a vole. So have a professional pest control service first identify the type of pest in your lawn. Once they have confirmed that there is indeed a mole infestation, you can start to work on different cures. Here are some DIY methods to prevent their spread that you can try:
1)Set up mesh wire and fences.
This is a method that can be applied to a smaller space like a garden or a lawn. You can insert and bury some fences made out of mesh wires along the perimeter of the lawn. This would stop the moles from digging in those areas by blocking their path. This is just a small way to prevent the spread of the moles and to limit them to a particular area. This won’t actually get rid of the moles, but it will help to prevent their spread. Then you can trap them in this area and work on getting rid of them.
2) Drain your soil
Make your soil drier by draining it. Water it less. While it may not be the best option, it will make the area less desirable to the moles. They like moist soil so work on reducing the moisture of your soil.
3) Hire a professional
The best way to get rid of moles is to bring in professional pest control services. They are quick and effective and help you take measures to prevent future infestations as well. If you try a bunch of DIY methods, they might not always work, and in the meanwhile, the mole problem in your lawn or field will only continue to grow. So it is better to opt for professional services. Mole removal services are not expensive.
However, keep in mind that mole eradication is a specialty and most pest control companies do not deal with them. Your best bet would be to look for a wildlife trapper. Wildlife trappers tend to deal with a wide variety of creatures.
Do It Yourself Trapping
There are three basic ways of getting rid of moles. You can trap them, you can give them poisonous bait or you can kill them with smoke.
Check your local and state laws before starting.
Smoke bombs or “gopher gassers” can be found online and in most big box retailers. However, in states like where I live in Florida, they are illegal. While they may be effective in some parts of the country, the soil in much of Florida is too sandy and the smoke just comes back out and dissipates.
Trapping is effective but you have to put the effort in; if you don’t like getting dirty, trapping may not be for you. Common traps are body gripping traps and harpoon traps. Yes, they look brutal.
The key is to set the trap in an active burrow. Burrows can be found by finding lines of raised dirt. If you can’t find any tunnels, you probably do not have a mole issue. The best way to tell if a burrow is active is to step on part of it. Mole will have exploratory tunnels that lead nowhere are are only uses once or twice. Come back the next day, if it is active, the mole will open it back up over night.
If you find the mole opened the hole back up, set your trap in that same area. If you are using a harpoon trap, just set the trap right over the area where the dirt was raised back up by the mole.
If you are using a lethal body-gripping trap you will need to dig into the ground. The goal is to dig a hole so that the trap can be set in such a way that you can then loosely cover the trap and one end of the trap connects to one end of the tunnel and the other end of the trap connects to the other side of the tunnel. It would sort of be like pulling out a section of railroad track and replacing that section with a trap that reconnects the track.
Too many people confuse moles with pocket gophers or voles. Gophers and voles are rodents and are herbivores where moles eat insects. A bait for gophers is unlikely to catch a bait for moles. As a wildlife and pest control specialist, I can tell you most of the mole baits on the market are worthless. Talpirid is the only thing that we have found to be effective in killing moles.