Volume XI, Issue 39 ~ September 25 - October 1, 2003

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Bay Reflections

When Molehills Become Mountains
Grow a lush lawn and you are creating a mole paradise.
by Maureen Miller

Tunnels in the Night struck me as a good name for a new hit tune. It would speak to those squishy protrusions that appeared in my yard every morning, made by moles in search of food. Hungry little critters were fast turning my lush lawn into a minefield as they extended the paths to their choice restaurants at the rate of 18 feet an hour. What to do?

The “trap ’em or poison ’em” solution of my old-timer neighbor seemed a bit harsh. My husband, however, immediately called some local mole bounty hunters just to see what they offered. “Guaranteed results,” they said. “You only pay for the bodies we show you.” Drastic. Besides how were we to know that the bodies shown were ‘our’ moles and not some frozen recycled ones?

I suggested we begin with the more humane, less expensive local advice: chewing gum. Stick gum down the holes. The moles eat it and gum up their works, so to speak. However, it turns out that moles can’t chew gum with those pointy little teeth. I had to contend with lots and lots of pieces of gum pushed up above the ground, marking the moles’ latest route to food.

Another neighbor recommended flooding them out. Stick a hose down a run and watch the moles float away. Unfortunately, we found the consequence of this solution was the extension of the local marsh by the width of our yard. And the moles? They stayed. It appears that moles are quite buoyant. They can swim without tiring for 30 to 50 minutes. Moreover, as they really prefer cool, moist soil, we were only improving their living conditions.

Once the word was out, it wasn’t long before we had a real flood — of advice. The solutions ranged from the macabre (poison them, gas them, skewer them, smoke them out) to the dangerous (use explosives, electrocution, flammable liquids, attack ferrets, crushed glass, razor blades) to the patented (set up vibrating or sonic mole chasers).

Where did all this advice come from? Have people really spent that much time on the destruction of a solitary six-inch creature that spends a lifetime underground and that can’t see but has terrific senses of hearing and smell?

Sure enough. It turns out that the mole record goes back to the time of Aristotle. Moles have changed the course of history. A misplaced molehill was the underlying cause of King William III’s death when his horse stumbled into it. Moles have also played a part of haute couture. Their fur was fashionable in the early 20th century. Moles have even been on the political agenda. Check out the British Parliament Mole Elimination Act of 1566. And amazingly, moles have been responsible for some of the most useless inventions ever patented.

There was a mountain of advice and information to climb over before I could conquer my molehills.

We Bay citizens have the misfortune of hosting the Eastern mole, also known as the common or gray mole. It’s the most widespread and damaging on this continent, of a group of 42 species worldwide. An insectivore, not a rodent, moles eat 60 to 100 percent of their body weight 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year round. A hardy excavator, its diet consists of insects: earthworms, beetles, assorted larva, and white grubs, including the Japanese beetle grub.

Armed with this information, I decided that the best, most humane solution was to fight critters with critters. Thus, each spring I now faithfully disperse a mail-ordered army of Hb nematodes onto my yard. These microscopic organisms are programmed to destroy the hamburgers of moledom — the grubs –— and close the mole restaurants.

Does it work? For the most part, yes. Is it expensive? Sort of. However, as one mole sage says: “Grow a lush lawn and you are creating a mole paradise.”

Maybe we should all just switch to buffalo grass.


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Last updated September 25, 2003 @ 12:57am