Sharon Raymond's tools of battle read like a serial killer's shopping list: poison pellets, weed killer, traps, insecticide, smoke bombs, water hoses, pitchforks.
Yet despite the lethal arsenal, the Puyallup woman is losing to the enemy: the lowly mole.
“Nothing works,” she wrote in an e-mail to The News Tribune. “I’m convinced God put them on earth to drive us crazy, and protects them for reasons beyond our comprehension. Help, Help, Help, I say!”
It’s that time of year for fall rains and an uptick in mole mounds. Countless homeowners are pulling out their hair – and sometimes shoving it down mole hills – as they struggle to rid the furry, near-blind critters and their mini-volcano mounds from lawns and gardens.
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Several dozen South Sound readers recently shared their tales of woe/war in answer to our request for mole stories. Some said they found success at eradicating moles with anything from chewing gum to car exhaust to used cat litter. Others said they tried the same methods with no success.
There’s no easy method for getting rid of the varmints, said Dave Pehling, a zoologist with the Washington State University Extension office in Snohomish. Pehling studies moles in his spare time and has given talks on the topic.
“The only thing consistently effective is mole trapping with traps that are no longer legal,” Pehling said.
He’s talking about mole traps with scissor-like jaws whose use was outlawed in 2000. A citizens’ initiative banned the use of such “body-gripping” traps, except for rat and mouse traps. The law, however, didn’t prohibit the sale of the body-gripping traps, which continue to be offered in Washington state hardware stores and online.
Pehling said he doesn’t advocate breaking the law. But several readers said they use the traps to catch moles or have hired exterminators who use the devices with success.
Another sure-fire method cited by Pehling and several readers: whacking the mole with a sledgehammer or shovel. Ron Czikall of Olympia advises tiptoeing to a mound in the early morning with a large sledgehammer. “When you see the mound he is working at, position yourself over it in the ready position. As the dirt begins to rise (at) about the second push, he will be directly under the mound,” Czikall wrote. “Let him have it with everything you got. The majority of the time, you will flatten him like a pancake.”
A plethora of additional products and folk remedies exist, but data are scarce on their effectiveness, Pehling said.
“In my opinion, most people who claim efficacy haven’t monitored (results) for a long enough time,” Pehling said.
The problem: moles make terrible research subjects. They live underground so people can’t see them, let alone tag them individually for study. People using a particular method may think it’s killed or chased moles away, and perhaps it did. Or the animals may have left on their own.
“If part of the moles’ territory runs low on earthworms, they just run to another area,” Pehling said. “We don’t see the moles; all we see is what they leave behind.”
The reprieve is often short-lived. When the moles move on, whether to heaven or the neighbor’s lawn, new moles often take up residence in the tunnels.
Knowing a bit about the mole can assist in their control – or persuade homeowners to let them be.
For starters, moles are insectivores, not rodents. The Northwest has four mole species, including the most common South Sound varieties: the Coast Mole, known scientifically as Scapanus orarius and the Townsend Mole or Scapanus townsendi.
The critters eat earthworms, insects and grubs that they find while tunneling underground.
Their matrix of tunnels could be just under the turf or three feet deep, Pehling said. They prefer soft soil over rocky soil and like to dig in “edge habitats” – for instance, by a sidewalk or where the ornamental garden meets lawn – so their tunnels won’t be disturbed by bigger mammals stepping on their mounds.
Moles use their powerful forearms and forefeet to virtually swim through the soil, tunnelling up to 15 feet per hour.
They are active year-round, but less visible in the winter when worms retreat farther underground.
“Most mound building takes place in the spring, when males are actively looking for mates and young are dispersing, and there is often a peak in activity in the late summer/fall when the rains soften up the ground and bring the worms to the surface,” Pehling said. “There are variables, though. For instance, those folks who water heavily all summer more often have summer damage than those who let their lawns go dormant.”
Damage can go beyond the cosmetic. Extensive tunneling can soften lawns and create a tripping hazard. Even if moles aren’t eating garden roots and bulbs, meadow voles that eat the vegetation often use mole tunnels to reach the food.
Still Pehling said, “For the most part, they benefit the environment. When the young migrate (above ground), owls and coyotes scarf them up. They aerate the soil. They enrich the soil with their poop and pee, just like other animals.”
Bob Jacobs of Olympia says he has no need to fight moles. He uses the “fine soil” moles produce to level low spots in his yard or mixes it with potting soil. “My lawns don’t need to look like carpets,” he wrote in an e-mail.
Debby Abe: 253-597-8694
READERS SHARE THEIR TIPS
Our in-boxes have been brimming with e-mails from readers sharing their stories on how they eradicate, chase away, or live with the wily mole. Here are edited excerpts from reader submissions.
The only thing that has ever worked for me is killing them using Victor ‘Out Of Sight’ traps. The only problem is that there are a few very crucial ‘tricks’ to setting them ... and the instructions that come with the trap are useless. ...
In reality, all you’re doing is enlarging the tunnel to accommodate the trap so it can straddle the run, replacing the dirt to completely fill in what you’ve removed, then placing the trap so that the pan is just above the dirt...1/8 to 1/4 inch. When Mr. Moley encounters dirt where he used to have a clear shot, he just wiggles his way through, pushing some of the dirt behind him, but also (and this is key) pushing a lot of it upward, thus pushing up on the pan and triggering the trap.”
– Greg Husser, Kapowsin
I treat the yard by putting on bug killer... triazizide is what I use to kill Crane Flies, fleas etc. I get it from McLendon’s ... No bugs for the moles to eat? No moles!
– John Aldrich, Kapowsin
Most effective method for controlling the large Townsend moles is: 1. Remove hill and find hole. 2. Flood hole with hose for several minutes. 3. Add 2 Tablespoons of the chlorine powder used for pools and hot tubs. 4. Put hose back and flush for several more minutes.
This may have to be done several times, but it does keep moles under control for several months.
– Tom Hruby, Lacey
To deter moles: Boil 2 cups of fresh mint and 8 cups of water for 20 minutes until it is mush. Add 1 cup mush to 1 gallon of water and pour into the mole’s hole. ... It works!
– Dorothy Nollan, Toledo
I’m not completely rid of moles, but my two mixed-breed dogs work hard at the task. I have seen them both go into the brush and come up with a mole. You’re probably thinking this must destroy my yard, but in the eight years of their lives they have succeeded in keeping the moles out in the pasture and at the edge of the woods out of the yard.
– Marilyn Miller, Olympia
In my younger and crueler days, I trapped moles, and quite successfully, too. As I aged, I began to feel sorry about the manner of their death – the traps are an ugly way to die – so I sought a kinder way. I have used gas pellets, human hair, arsenic, mole pellets and mole worms. Nothing has worked for me yet. Looking for the positive, I note how fine the dirt is that they pile up for me. At least, they are aerating the lawn and flower beds on their path of destruction.
– Margit Thorvaldson, Eatonville
I went to Ace Hardware and bought “Mole & Gopher Repellent.” I just sprinkled the entire yard with it. It states that the moles will move to another location. ... To my amazement, they just disappeared, never to be seen since. It’s now been over a year and mole free.
– Bonnie Eddy, Tumwater
I stick a steel rod down the center of the mole hill until I feel the mole trail. I remove the steel rod which leaves a hole right down to the trail. I drop one stick of Juicy Fruit gum down the hole and I pack or step down on the hill. I do this to every mole hill I find. The next day sometimes I find a new mole hill and I just use the same method again. I have never had to do it a third time.
Some people have told me this doesn’t work, but it has always worked for me.
– Phil Harrison, Lacey
My mole eradication plan works. I simply fill their runway with used kitty litter. I put the loose dirt back in the runway and flush it down with the hose. Then I fill the hole with used kitty litter and flush it down into the runway. Each day when I clean the litter box (I have 2 cats) I put the used litter into a plastic sleeve The Olympian comes in. That makes it simple to pour it into the runway.
– Louise Benoit, Olympia
Debby Abe: 253-597-8694