Moles are small burrowing mammals from the Talpidae family of animals. In North America, the most common species are the common (or eastern) mole (Scalopus aquaticus), common east of the Rocky Mountains; the star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata), a familiar pest along the east coast; the hairy-tailed mole (Parascalops breweri), most common in the northeastern U.S.; and the shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii), the type most common in the western U.S.
In some circumstances, moles serve a valuable function by offering deep aeration of soil as they feed on grubs, earthworms, and other subterranean insects. Thus, they can be valuable in prairie areas and other natural grasslands. But for homeowners seeking a beautiful lawn, moles are a serious pest. The raised ridges and small volcano-shaped heaps of earth caused by mole tunneling can spoil your perfect lawn. While moles do not eat plant roots, they can seriously disrupt root systems in their search for insects. Moles tunnels often give a spongy feel to the lawn as you walk over them.
Depending on the species, moles range from 4 to 8 inches in length and have pointed snouts, very small eyes, no ears, and large shovel-shaped front paws edged with digging claws. The damage they cause to lawns and gardens comes about as they tunnel beneath the soil in search of insects to feed upon. Moles produce two types of tunnels (runways) in your yard. One runway runs just beneath the surface. These are feeding tunnels and appear as raised ridges running across your lawn. The second type of tunnel is deeper and enables the moles to unite the feeding tunnels in a network. It is the soil dug up from these deep tunnels that homeowners find on their lawns, piled up in mounds that look like little volcanoes.
3 Ways to Get Rid of Moles
Eliminate Grubs and Beetles
Moles need food to survive. Two major sources of food for moles are grubs (that is, the larvae of certain beetles) and worms. Therefore, a simple first step you can take for mole control is to eliminate grubs, thereby removing a principal food source. If, on the other hand, moles are drawn to your lawn due to the presence of earthworms, you will have to fight them by other means. Earthworms are usually considered beneficial to your lawn and garden, and you don't want to eliminate worms simply because you have a mole problem.
Grubs are the larval form of many beetles, including the Japanese beetle and June bugs, so combatting the adult beetles will also reduce future grub populations, thereby making your lawn less attractive to moles.
Trap the Moles
The most reliable method of getting rid of moles permanently is to use kill traps. These traps are designed specifically for killing moles, and several styles are available, described according to their means of action: scissors traps, choker traps, and harpoon traps. If the idea of killing moles is repugnant to you, there are also small live traps available, though they are hard to use. The problem with live-trapping, however, is that you still have to release the live mole. In some states, the relocation of vermin animals is actually prohibited. Kill traps are generally the more recommended, and the most effective, method.
Trapping in the early spring can get rid of pregnant female moles, effectively preventing greater problems later. Where you place the trap is critical to success—it's important to set traps in active tunnels. Each type of trap has its own instructions for use, but one of the most effective is the harpoon trap. To use it:
- Compress the soil over an active tunnel, then position the trap over the compressed area with the legs of the trap pushed firmly down into the ground.
- While holding the trap in place, push the trap's trip pan into the compressed area and make sure it touches the surface of the soil.
- Pull back the harpoon tines until the spring lever snaps into place. Check again to make the legs are firmly anchored. When a mole attempts to reopen the tunnel, it will move the trip pan and cause the harpoon tines to plunge into the soil, which usually kills the mole instantly.
- Check the trap daily; if the trap has been sprung, there is a good chance you will find a dead mole when you dig up the area below the trap. On rare occasions, the trap may fail to kill the mole instantly; you may need to dispatch it with a sharp blow to the head.
Use Mole Poison
A last resort is to use one of the chemical poisons proven to be effective against moles. One leading product is known as Bromethalin, which is sold as a package of worm-shaped baits treated with a mixture of bromine and fluorine. When the mole eats these worms, it induces convulsions that kill the mole.
Another product is the traditional rodenticide warfarin, a chemical that causes creatures who ingest it to bleed internally. When tailored for use for moles, it is placed in a worm-flavored gel that can be injected directly into a mole tunnel, thereby reducing the likelihood that other creatures will ingest it.
Finally, there are mole baits containing zinc phosphide. When placed in the tunnel and eaten by a mole, this compound reacts to form a phosphine gas that kills the mole within a few hours.
All forms of mole bait or poison are toxic chemicals that must be used with great caution to avoid contact with humans, pets, or desirable wildlife. It is generally better to use traps, reserving chemical poisons for situations where no other mole control methods succeed.
What Causes Moles
Moles are most likely to be a problem on lawns where there are lots of grubs and earthworms to feed on, and where the soil is moist. Too much watering may make your lawn very attractive to moles, especially if surrounding areas are quite dry.
How to Prevent Moles
To prevent moles, take measures to control grubs that offer them food, and limit the watering of your lawn. Regular use of repellant measures (see above) around the perimeter of your yard may prevent moles from crossing over into your property.
Moles vs. Voles
Since moles are not the only animal pests responsible for runways in the yard, they are often confused with these other pests, such as the vole (Myodes spp.). Moles and voles may have similar-sounding names, but it's easy to tell them apart: A vole looks like a mouse; a mole is much larger (usually about 6 to 8 inches long) and has a long, pointed snout and large paddle-like front paws with prominent claws.
Mole mounds are volcano-like in appearance, while voles leave behind no mounds at all. Instead, voles construct well-defined, visible runways at or near the surface, about 2 inches wide. Vole runways result from the voles eating the grass blades, as well as from the constant traffic of numerous little feet over the same path.
Moles vs. Pocket Gophers
Another creature that inflicts substantial damage on lawns and gardens is the pocket gopher, which includes about 35 different species from the Geomyidae family of rodents. Like moles, gophers often leave volcano-shaped mounds of earth piled up as the product of their tunneling, but unlike moles, gophers do not leave raised ridges in the lawn, as their tunneling activity generally occurs at a deeper level. Slightly larger than moles, gophers have similar spade-like front paws and feed primarily on plant roots. This makes the pocket gopher an even more serious pest than moles, whose damage to lawns is generally cosmetic, a byproduct of simple tunneling.
Gophers have incisor teeth that are visible, and small but clearly identifiable ears. Moles, on the other hand, have no visible ears and their teeth do not protrude. Trapping gophers requires a slightly different method, with traps that are specially designed for catching gophers; the traps are usually placed underground, within the tunnels.
Are there any natural predators for moles?
If you live in a rural area, there are several natural predators with digging habits that may catch and kill moles. Foxes, coyotes, badgers, weasels, and fishers are all known hunters of moles, so don't be upset if you see one of these creatures digging in your mole-infested lawn. Some raptor birds, especially the red-tailed hawk, may also occasionally catch a mole that strays above ground. And some species of domestic dog, such as terriers, may be adept at digging holes and catching moles.
Do moles carry diseases?
Moles are not generally considered serious vectors of disease, but they can potentially transmit infectious diseases. Take care not to touch trapped moles with your bare hands when disposing of them.
Controlling Damage from Moles and Voles. Alabama Cooperative Extension System, 2021.
Flint, Mary Louise. Earthworms in Lawns. University of Georgia Extension, 2013.
Zinc Phosphide General Fact Sheet. National Pesticide Information Center.
How Do I Protect My Pets While Using Mole/Gopher Baits? National Pesticide Information Center, 2016.