The sudden appearance of dirt mounds in your lawn, garden, or field is an indication that an unwanted pest has taken up residence. Moles and gophers can quickly disfigure your lawn, destroy vegetation, and create a nuisance. Knowing the differences between moles and gophers is important in helping you get rid of them.
Moles have become very well adapted to life underground, and this shows in their physical characteristics. They have very wide, flat feet in front with narrower feet in back. Their feet end in large claws that help them dig and move through the soil in a swimming motion. They spend nearly their whole lives underground, so they are almost completely blind. They have a good sense of smell, hearing, and touch to help them navigate their world.
Since they are constantly tunneling through the soil, moles have specialized features that help keep the soil away. Their ears are completely covered by fur, and thin membranes cover their eyes. They also have thin snouts that extend in front of their mouths. Moles range in color from bluish-black to gray and can grow up to 12 inches in length, depending on the species.
There are three major species of moles that are problematic in the United States. The most common is the Eastern mole. Its range extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Rocky Mountains. This mole may also be referred to as a “common mole” or “gray mole.” The townsend mole is common in the Pacific Northwest, and the broad-footed mole inhabits California.
Contrary to popular belief, moles are not rodents. They are actually part of a group of mammals called insectivores. They like to feast on things like earthworms, beetles, spiders, slugs, white grubs, and insect larvae. Moles have very high metabolisms, so they eat almost constantly. They can eat 60-90% of their body weight every single day. A mole’s saliva contains a toxin that paralyzes earthworms so that it can save them to eat later. Moles are most active during the spring and fall and prefer the morning and evening hours.
Moles live solitary lives, except during mating. Moles mate during the early spring from February to May. Gestation takes approximately 6 weeks, and a litter is usually from 2-5 babies, depending on the species. Moles can live up to 6 years.
Problems Caused by Moles
Moles are considered an agricultural pest in some areas, though they do not eat vegetation, as many people believe. Problems are mostly caused by their tunnels and mounds. Problems may include: damage to drainage systems and farm equipment, killing young vegetation due to soil disturbance, and disfiguring lawns and pastures. Despite these issues, moles eat a lot of garden pests and help to loosen up the soil, so they aren’t all bad.
Tunnels and Molehills
Moles have vast networks of underground tunnels called runways. There are two types of runways, sub-surface and deep runways. Sub-surface tunnels are just below the surface of the ground and can be identified by ridges that run through lawn and pasture areas. These ridges are 3-5 inches wide with rounded edges.
Deep tunnels are most often used as the main runway. These tunnels can be 3-12 inches below ground level. The soil that is dug out of these deep tunnels is deposited above ground via a short vertical tunnel. It forms a mound that is volcano-shaped and is known as a molehill. Even if you have many molehills in your lawn, chances are good that it is actually only one mole. An acre of land usually only supports 2-3 moles at a time. Moles can dig from 50-100 molehills per month.
If you are having problems with moles, chances are good that you have an oversupply of lawn pests like grubs and other bugs. Grub control products, milky spore, or beneficial nematodes can help get rid of the pests in the soil and deter moles from digging in your yard. You can also protect your plants from damage by placing wire mesh cages around them. While moles do not eat plants, they can damage them with their tunneling or allow easy access to them for other animals like voles.
There are many different kinds of mole traps available for purchase. The Harris Easy Set Mole Trap is a great option to quickly and easily get rid of moles. It eliminates the risks associated with poisons and is effective for all species. To place a mole trap, start by finding a major runway. You can do this by finding two molehills that are close together, between 3-10 feet. Probe in a line using a strong stick or iron bar. When you find the hollow part that indicates a tunnel, continue probing until you find a straight section to set the trap. From there, follow the directions indicated by the manufacturer.
Humane mole traps are also available. When using a humane trap, make sure that you release any moles caught at least 5 miles away so they don’t find their way back. Spring and Fall are the best times to trap moles because the ground is not frozen, but it is moist enough to work with.
Mole repellents may work to encourage the mole to leave your property. Castor oil is a common ingredient used to repel moles. Soaking the entrances and tunnels in a castor oil mixture may drive them away, but it is not a guaranteed solution and may harm earthworms and other insects in the soil. Repellants often need to be reapplied to be effective.
Poison baits are a good choice if you want to ensure that you get rid of the moles. Mole baits work quickly and effectively to kill moles. After finding the main runway, create a small hole where you can insert the poison. Using a long spoon, put the product into the runway and carefully cover the hole without covering up the bait. Always follow all label directions.
Typical pocket gophers are black to light brown in color. They usually range from 6-8 inches in length and weigh 6-14 ounces. A gopher’s tail can add approximately 1-2 inches to its length. Gophers have a powerfully built body with a short neck, small flat head, and long sharp claws. Their ears and eyes are small and barely visible. They are called “pocket gophers” because of the fur-lined pouches in their cheeks. They use these pouches to carry food back to their storage areas.
Gophers spend the vast majority of their lives underground. They are herbivores that like to eat the roots and tubers of plants. They will occasionally venture above ground to forage for plants, but they will quickly pull the plants they find back down into the burrow. Aside from mating and raising their young, gophers are also solitary creatures. They are territorial and will fight aggressively to defend their tunnels and food storage areas from invaders. Gophers are sexually mature at about one year old, and a female gopher will produce 1-3 litters per year, with 2-5 pups each. The average lifespan of a gopher is 1-3 years, but some can live up to 5 years.
Problems Caused by Gophers
Gophers can be extremely problematic for farmers, gardeners, and homeowners. Their voracious appetites and destructive tunneling can not only destroy crops, but also interfere with irrigation and damage farming equipment. Homeowners can also be affected by gophers because they can ruin sprinkler systems, chew through utility cables, damage plants (roots, tree bark, bulbs, etc.), and dig up lawns. Gopher problems are most likely to happen in the spring and fall when the ground has more moisture, but gophers are active year round and can cause damage at any time.
Gopher Tunnels and Holes
Tunnels and holes are some of the biggest reasons why gophers are pests. There are two different kinds of tunnels. The main tunnel is dug parallel to the surface and around 6-12 inches deep. Secondary tunnels may go off in many different directions and include a number of hole openings. A solitary gopher can have a territory of 2,000 square feet with 7-8 tunnels of 800 feet each.
The only visible evidence of gophers is often their mound or hole at the surface. One gopher can dig 70 mounds per month. Gopher mounds are typically about 1 foot tall and 2 feet wide, but the size of both tunnels and mounds is determined by the size of the gopher. Gophers come to the surface at an angle, so the mounds are crescent or fan-shaped, as opposed to the symmetrical volcano-shaped mounds of moles. Fresh gopher mounds are taller with loose, dark soil, while older mounds will be light colored and more compacted.
Preventing gophers is extremely difficult and often not practical. Staying on top of the problem is usually the best that can be done. If you are worried about gophers in your yard, you can create barriers that will protect plants and trees. Possible options include: growing gardens in a raised bed, using plastic netting around seedlings, or using mesh hardware cloth buried at least 2.5 feet deep around shrubs and trees.
The key to effectively trapping gophers is finding the fresh mounds. Once you have found a fresh mound with a soil plug, you can probe the ground one foot out from the mound using a strong stick or iron bar to find the main tunnel. Dig a small hole and clear away the extra soil. You can then place two traps in the hole, facing opposite directions. Attach the trap to stakes with wire so the gopher does not pull your trap away. Then carefully replace the dirt without setting off the trigger. The gopher will run along the main tunnel and get caught.
You can also set a trap in a lateral tunnel. Find a fresh mound, dig down until you find the tunnel, clean out the dirt, and then set the trap. In this situation, leave the hole open. The gopher will see the light, attempt to plug the hole, and get caught in the trap. Traps should be checked daily, and if no activity is seen after a day or two, try to find a fresher hole.
Fumigation, or gassing, is another option for getting rid of gophers, though most experts find it less effective than trapping or baiting. If you would like to use a gassing product, start by locating an active tunnel or mound. Gather some extra rocks and soil to close the mound or tunnel. Dig a small hole where you can place the gasser cartridge. Follow the instructions on the gasser product that you purchase. Light the fuse, and then insert the fuse end first into the opening. Cover it up completely and watch for other areas where smoke might be escaping. Cover any that you find. When using a gasser, make sure that no children or animals are around, and avoid breathing it in.
Poison baits are another method of gopher control. Baits like Harris Dry Up Mole and Gopher Killer can be used. Once again, find the main tunnel, and create a small opening. Using a long spoon, apply the bait using the appropriate rates listed on the product. Carefully cover the hole, so that the bait does not get buried. Keep your eyes open, and if you find new mounds, reapply the bait until gopher activity stops.
Gopher and Mole Pest Control Products
If you have gophers or moles invading your lawn, you can trust PF Harris products to get the job done quickly and effectively. As America’s oldest EPA registered pest control company, we have the best products and most experience. Whether it is gophers and moles or ants, roaches, or other pests, you can trust Harris products. Visit pfharris.com today for more information.