Greg Munson: Is a mole a blemish on your lawn? Not necessarily

Moles live virtually their whole lives underground and are a valuable part of the soil and plant ecosystem.

Three weeks ago, my column ended telling readers to be watching out for moles and gophers extending their tunnels. That was in response to our neighbors mentioning they had a mole raising havoc with their lawn. Amazingly, all the visible tunnels were probably the work of one mole, since they are very solitary critters, except during mating.

The neighbors weren't able to end their mole's time on Earth, but they somehow got it to move next door. And what a move it was. It began at the bottom of our driveway where it meets the sidewalk. Staying tight to the edge, it tunneled the whole length of the driveway right up to our raspberry bed, where it followed the curves of the brick edging for another 30 feet.

I've seen mole tunnels before, but this was the first that has edged our driveway and garden with a 3-inch raised mound. And, as many mole tunnels as I've seen, I don't remember the last time I a saw a mole above ground. I suspect they come out mostly at night, when perhaps the little saw-whet owls I wrote about last week may pick off a few of them.

Since moles spend most of their time underground, they have some adaptations to help them do so. Their feet have an extra thumb to help with tunnel digging and they have short fur not laid in any direction, so they can more easily more forward or backwards. The fur is so soft it was once the rage in England for coats made from the pelts of hundreds of moles.

Moles will sometimes eat plant roots, but their favorite foods are earthworms and grubs. As they dig, they gather food in their tunnels and often even stash it for eating later by paralyzing the worms. Although I am not sure how scientists would know this, moles apparently even squeeze the soil out of the earthworms before consuming them. Reading that reminded me of doing the same thing for the "worm cookies" we used to make on parents day at the Quarry Hill summer camp.


Mole tunnels near the surface can just be made by raising the soil as was done along our driveway. But for their deeper tunnels and dens, they have to bring the dirt they excavate to the surface. I usually see only the raised tunnels and a few small piles of dirt, not the huge piles gophers create.

For many people, killing off a mole becomes an obsession, with the moles usually winning the battle. Trapping gophers is a relatively straightforward process which has been perfected by farm kids over the years. But the long list of ways to try to get rid of moles is testimony to the fact there is no easy way to do it. There are various types of traps, including some with names like scissors or harpoon. Smoke bombs, hole flooding techniques, and an array of poisons are also prescribed.

Although many who like perfectly manicured lawns will not agree with me, I usually don't put the work of moles high on my list of life stresses. Most of the time I just stomp down the tunnels with my size 13 boots. So maybe, instead of going to battle with the moles, we should just put up with them as part of the natural world we so desperately need around us.

Watch out for

— Thousands of swans gathering in Weaver Bottoms and further south

— Barren fields with harvests mostly done

— Large numbers of homo sapiens fleeing Minnesota

What To Read Next
Get Local