Dearest mole by Serena under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license.
Moles (Talpa europaea) are mammals that are solitary insectivores and they live in a range of habitats; grassland, woodland, arable land, upland, moorland, gardens, and urban areas. They are one of the most widespread and common mammals in the United Kingdom (they don’t live in Ireland), but because they spend the majority of their lives underground in tunnels, they are very rarely spotted. Molehills, small mounds of soil moles push up, are often seen and in gardens they are particularly unwelcome.
Moles do emerge from the ground occasionally; in long periods of dry weather when there is a shortage of food, or when the young disperse after the breeding season.
Moles are small (about 15cm long) and they have short dark velvety fur. Their eyes are tiny and their eyesight is poor; they don’t rely on sight much living underground. Moles have forelimbs that are stout and spade-like with long strong claws, these are very good at tunnelling. Their snouts are pink and bare, and they are covered in pimples that can sense the scent and movement of their prey.
Moles live about 3 years, but they can be predated by buzzards, tawny owls, cats and dogs, and stoats.
A moles’ underground tunnel system includes permanent and semi-permanent tunnels. Some are surface or feeding tunnels and others are much deeper. They also can include a nest.
Earthworms are the main part of a Mole’s diet and they can store them by biting off the front end of the worm so it stays alive and therefore fresh, but is unable to wriggle away. Moles also eat beetles and other insects including insect larvae in the summer.
Moles are most active usually in late winter and early spring. Breeding occurs in the spring and males expand their tunnels looking for females. A pair of moles will have 3 to 4 babies which will disperse from the female’s territory, over ground, 5 to 6 weeks after birth.
Many people dislike moles because they leave unsightly mole hills, their surface tunnels can collapse leaving the ground unlevel, and they get blamed for eating plant roots.
But Moles don’t eat plants! They are carnivores and eat invertebrates. Plant damage can be caused by their tunnels, but it is incidental; their tunnelling may disturb or expose roots which then can dry out.
Moles are seen as pests by many, including gardeners and farmers, and they have no legal protection in the U.K. Moles use to be trapped for their pelts, or poisoned with strychnine, but today they are killed by trapping which can be cruel (especially if the traps are misused). Use of strychnine is now illegal; it’s dangerous to wildlife and death this way is slow and painful.
|Mole hills||Aerate and improve the soil|
|Incidental damage to plants||Eat many pest insects (crane fly larvae, slugs)|
|Hills and collapsed tunnels can damage farming machinery||Eat harmful insect larvae (carrot fly, may bug)|
|Tunnels can help drain soils|
I have a mole in my garden but I wouldn’t for a second consider hurting it. When I first discovered mole hills in my garden I did worry a bit for my plants and I googled for kinder ways to dissuade the mole from sticking around.
There doesn’t seem to be an consensus on whether these things work or not but some of the ideas I found were: Planting species that repel them such as alliums, using other repellents like castor oil, or gadgets that use vibration or sound to repel moles.
I haven’t tried any of these things. I decided to live with my mole. I set out to make a wildlife garden and moles are wildlife! I invited it really. It hasn’t caused any real damage so far and it’s been around a while now. After its initial tunnelling frenzy it’s quietened down. It’s a welcome part of my home made nature reserve now 🙂
Some advice I’ve found for living with a mole is:
- If one of your plants is affected by a mole tunnel, push the soil back and water it in well to keep the roots moist.
- Clear away the molehills by scooping them up, the area underneath is likely to be relatively undamaged. If you see a hole, carefully fill it in.
Hopefully, when the mole has enough tunnels to sustain itself, it will stop tunnelling. Don’t flatten the hills as this may damage the tunnel and the mole will fix it making more hills.
- In a wildlife garden where the grass is kept longer and wild flowers are grown, you don’t even notice mole hills. You can even scatter seeds over a mole hill where the soil has been prepared for you.
If you have to remove a mole, perhaps relocation is an option.
I doubt this link will work outside the UK, but in 2013 BBC 2 ran a programme called The Burrowers. It was about our underground animals. Hopefully you can see the mole in action in this 5 minute clip from the show. CLICK HERE.
Have you ever seen a mole? Do you have one in your garden, and if so how to you get on with it?