The signs are familiar: mounds of fresh crumbly soil, raised shallow ridges of earth, or a lumpy area in the garden that collapses when you flatten it down; moles are busy.
Some people have especially sharp reactions to moles – or mole-signs more precisely. Those of a tidy nature tend to think that mole hills and tunnels ruin the perfect greensward of a lawn. There is often a suspicion of plant damage.
I am happy to accept the little guys as a wildlife species that will still live with us in an urban environment and provide ecosystem services like pest control, soil aeration, drainage, and fertility. Our moles are mainly insectivores and not herbivores, although sometimes they do munch on plants or bulbs: 10% to 30% of their diet potentially, according to my wildlife bible Living With Wildlife in the Pacific Northwest.
Their excavations can undermine roots or heave plants out of the ground – mainly a problem with younger, less established plants. But their main objective is not plant destruction, it is building tunnels which act as buffet tables when worms, grubs, and insects fall in.
Molehills are a great source of nice soil if you need some. To repair cosmetic disturbance just flatten out the hills and tunnels and throw some grass seed on top. Moles might even be considered a lucky sign for superstitious gardeners – if they are in your lawn, it is an outward sign of good soil full of life and moisture.
In a nutshell
The positive side effects for humans
- soil layer mixing, deeper soil
- distribution of nutrients and organic matter
- increased aeration/ drainage
- pest control – moles eat craneflies, slugs and more
- cosmetic – shallow tunnels and mounds disturb the surface
- sometimes plants get pushed aside or buried, or they create air pockets beneath
- sometimes they eat roots and bulbs (but not their main diet)
Can I get rid of my moles or scare them away??
This is the answer everyone has been waiting for: probably not. Even though there is only room for one or two moles per city lot, if you get rid of the ones you have, neighboring moles will want to move in. Moles might use runways for awhile and then leave because they decide to be somewhere else. So you think it was something you did, but really your mole just wandered off! They might or might not return later. Most mole remedies are totally ineffective, a lot of trouble, toxic, painful to the moles, or just ridiculous.
Moles are a wonder of natural selection, uniquely designed to move in underground tunnels, with “velvety fur that is reversible to make backing up easy.” I can vouch for this – I found one stuck in a window well trying to dig back underground and I petted it – it was the softest thing EVER!
They have large flat front feet with claws adapted for fast digging “The Chehalis Indian word for mole translates into ‘hands turned backward’.”
Wa Dept of Fish and Wildlife http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/moles.html
If you want to read a real, in-depth, researched, professional journalistic piece on Seattle’s moles, here’s one by Linda Mapes