One of the best parts of spring is seeing all of the wildlife seemingly come to life around us. Unfortunately, that activity can also bring new challenges to homeowners. One of the most common and widespread problems is lawn damage caused by moles.
In Indiana, eastern moles cause significant lawn damage. Characteristic signs of damage are the raised surface tunnels (these make your lawn uneven and feel “spongy” when you walk across it) and the dirt mounds created when moles dig deeper tunnels. A single mole can dig many feet of tunnels; one study found a single mole constructed 31 m of surface tunnels in a day.
Biologists actually know very little about moles compared to many species. It is assumed they are territorial and solitary (except during the breeding season) but that has yet to be determined. The only home range study of eastern moles was published in 1976. That study found that the average home range size of male moles was just over 2.5 acres; females had an average home range size of two-thirds of an acre. In reality, there is likely much variation across habitat types and season. Clearly, small yards in urban areas are capable of sustaining many moles.
One of the most effective ways to control moles in the yard is by trapping. It just so happens that the best time to trap them is right now. In May, moles are actively looking for food (mostly earthworms and insects) in the top layer of the soil profile, however, they have not yet had their litter of up to four young. Thus, a little trapping effort now can save you more effort, and less damage, later.
There are a lot of different kinds of mole traps on the market. Which do you choose? Regardless of the type of trap, it should be in good working order. Poorly kept traps that are rusty with loose or broken parts are not worth setting out. In terms of the specific type of trap that you use, it’s really up to you. With types of traps, I use the analogy of computer programs. There are advantages and limitations to most computer programs, but they all get the job done they were intended to do. Different people seem to find different programs easier to work with than others. Perhaps most often, we simply use the first program we learned to use, and as long as it works, there’s not much point in learning another. I think the same is true of traps. We tend to have success with the ones that we first learned or have some experience with using.
The main point is to start trapping now – don’t wait for the damage to get worse. Select relatively straight surface tunnels for trap locations. If you only have one trap at your disposal, you may want to also mark a couple other potential trapping locations. Collapse these locations by stepping on them and marking them with a pin flag. If you aren’t having success catching a mole in your initial location, you can try moving to one of these if the tunnels are repaired. It may be that you initially chose a tunnel that was not a primary tunnel. However, it also may mean that your trap was not set properly.
Finally, you may come across some references that will direct you to check the traps frequently. While this is absolutely critical for live traps, it is not for mole traps since they are kill traps. There is no requirement to check them regularly other than to see if you have a mole. However, a trap with a dead mole won’t catch anything else. This is one reason why setting several traps is better if you have access to them. If you don’t catch a mole within two days, then you should consider moving locations or resetting the trap. When you catch a mole, keep setting traps until you don’t catch them. Most homeowners have problems with moles and not simply a mole.
For more detailed information about controlling moles, see Wildlife Conflict Management - Moles.
Brian MacGowan, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Purdue University