The truth about Moles



Moles are ruining my garden!

Periodically, usually after rain, there is been an upsurge of 'mole' activity and I have had numerous queries, (as well as many fool proof methods, ranging through snake droppings, exhaust fumes, mothballs, garlic, hair, flooding, urine… the list goes on), as to how to get rid of these so called garden pests. The question is "Why do you want to get rid of the moles?" Invariably the answers are either one or both of the following: "Because they eat my bulbs." or "Because they make a mess of my lawn with their mole hills".

Not true

There are in fact two different groups of ‘mole-like’ creatures found in our gardens in South Africa, neither of which are moles at all, namely Golden Moles and Mole-rats. True Moles, Golden Moles and Mole-rats all have streamlined bodies, short limbs and no visible external ears, but there the similarity ends.

A brief biology lesson

True Moles

Having been weaned on Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Graham's 'Wind in the Willows' and of course, William Horwood's 'Duncton Wood', I have always assumed that the heaps of soil pushed up on my lawn were made by moles. I was thus somewhat stunned to discover that there are no true Moles found in Africa. True Moles belong to the family Talpidae and are found in North America, Europe and Asia. True Moles do push do up mole hills but they are insectivorous. For the rest of this article True Moles can be discounted as they don't come into the South African equation at all.

Golden moles

Golden Moles belong to a distinct family of their own: the Chrysochloridae family. They are only found in Africa south of the Sahara, with most species being endemic to South Africa. Although they look very similar to True Moles, various sources suggest that they are more closely related to elephants, manatees, aardvarks or porcupines than they are to True Moles. Golden Moles, like True Moles, are insectivorous but unlike True Moles, they do not make 'mole hills'.

The Golden Mole eats insects, snails and worms. They have thick, sheeny coats ranging from grey, through brown, to black. Their eyes are covered with skin and the teeth and ears are not visible. Their hind legs are quite small while the front legs and shoulders are more powerful, ending in rather large paws and claws designed for digging. They are solitary creatures, forming raised ridges on the surface of the ground as they burrow in search of beetle, larvae and other insects. The Golden Mole may disturb a plant or two, but does little damage and a great deal of good.

Incidentally, Golden Mole numbers are declining due to loss of habitat to urban, mining and agricultural expansion as well as the predations of both domesticated and feral cats and dogs. Of the 21 species of Golden Mole, 11 are threatened or near threatened with extinction.

Golden Mole run
Golden Mole run

Mole-rats

Mole-rats also belong to their own distinct family, Bathyergidae. These creatures, like squirrels, beavers and hamsters, belong to the group of animals known as rodents. The common name 'Mole-rat' is an unfortunate misnomer as they are neither moles nor rats, but a species all to themselves.

There are 4 species of Mole-rat in South Africa which vary in size, habits and habitat. For the purposes of this discussion I have chosen to describe the Common Mole-rat which is found across South Africa.

Common Mole-rats have velvety light brown coats, a short tail, small eyes and really large, protruding incisor teeth with which they dig their tunnels. They live in small colonies of up to 14 members and can have a network of tunnels up to a few hundred meters long. 

Mole-rats, like most rodents, are herbivorous. This is the culprit that eats our bulbs (and, I discovered, grass roots) and makes the 'mole hills', which often contain a stone or two ejected from the burrow -  so beware your lawnmower. 

This is an extremely aggressive little creature and is quick to attack, throwing its head back with teeth bared, grunting and squeaking all the while. I once saw one keep our dog, Sandy, at bay for some time. The moment that she got close enough, the mole-rat ferociously bit her on the lip. Her hasty departure was less than quiet!

Common Mole-rat
Common Mole-rat
Common Mole-rat
Common Mole-rat
Common Mole-rat
Common Mole-rat

Carnage and devastation - don't over-react

For the bulb lover, the sight of one's precious Clivias or Cyrtanthus, Nerines or Albuca, their leaves yellowing and plants falling over in all directions, can bring on an attack of impotent fury. Initially, the sight of my destroyed bulbs had me gathering the mess and tossing it onto the compost heap but after a while I came to the realisation that, unlike Man, wild creatures do not normally destroy their own natural sources.

Many of the eaten bulbs can be salvaged. Some bulbs are hollowed out with only the outer parts remaining, (See bottom left of the first photo below). This outer shell, left in the ground, will in time produce new roots, the flesh of the bulb will re-grow and the plant can be saved. Other bulbs may be eaten away entirely, leaving only the stem of the plant with the leaves.  As long as the leaves and stem can be held intact, (as in the first photo below), plant the stem directly into the ground. This stem will often produce roots and re-grow as well. I have been able to recover a variety of Albula species as well as Clivias miniata and nobilis in this way. Sometimes only a fraction of the bulb remains, as in the second picture below, a Eulophia speciosa. The bit of bulb and one root was sufficient for the plant to recover. The third photo shows the recovery stage of a Scadoxus puniceus bulb that was partially hollowed out but has now filled out and is producing new roots. The last photo below shows the sudden yellowing of leaves indicating a problem below ground. These were very small Sparaxis bulbs and none of them survived.

Mole-rat damage albuca
Mole-rat damage orchid
Mole-rat damage Scadoxus Puniceus
Mole-rat damage sparaxis

Getting rid of Mole-rats

Methods suggested by northern hemisphere dwellers to get rid of True Moles have little or no effect on Golden Moles or Mole-rats – they simply shut off the offending tunnels and shift to a different area of their burrows for a while.

Trying to drown out Mole-rats is impossible as their burrows go down to a meter or more under the ground and the tunnel system may cover distances of well over a hundred meters. Putting garlic down the holes is just a waste of garlic - they eat it. Bottles in the holes - they push them out. Faeces and urine - they couldn't care less.

I have to smile when I am told by gardeners that they have got rid of the 'moles' in their gardens using whatever strange method they have devised. True, the animals may have moved to your neighbour or over the road, but the real reason for this is that they have eaten their fill of what your garden can provide and have moved on to greener pastures. Bear in mind that Mole-rats have very large territories in which they move about, eating bulbs as they go, but returning to these feeding grounds once the plants have had a chance to recover and can once again provide sustenance.

Living with Mole-rats and Golden Moles

Both of these creatures fulfill an important ecological role by aerating the soil, increasing the drainage properties of the soil and preventing over-population of species, be they plant or animal. Perhaps it is best to come to terms with their presence, after all, they were here first. The only solution is that prevention is better than cure – make your bulbs inaccessible, and keep a rake handy to spread out the Mole-rat hills while the soil is still soft and loose.

References

http://www.givengain.com/cause/2347/projects/12414/ (Endangered Wildlife Trust - Golden Moles)

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/237723/golden-mole (Encyclopaedia Britannica Golden mole)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_mole-rat (Wikipedia Common mole-rat)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mole (Wikipedia Golden mole)

http://www.afrotheria.net/golden-moles/maps.php (Afrotheria Specialist Group: Golden mole distribution maps)

http://cameratrap.mywild.co.za/2014/03/golden-mole-goodness.html (Remote Camera Trap - South Africa: Golden Mole goodness)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(animal) (Wikipedia: Mole (animal))

http://www.arkive.org/mole/talpa-europaea/ (Wildscreen Aktive: Mole (Talpa europaea)

http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Cryptomys_hottentotus/ (Animal Diversity Web: Cryptomys hottentotus

http://www.ewt.org.za/TGSP/mole.html?gclid=Cj0KEQiAkJyjBRClorTki_7Zx8QBE... (Endangered Wild Life Trust: Threatened Grassland Species Trust)

 

Comments

I have resigned from my exploits on trying to find a humane and environmentally friendly way of riding my garden of these nauty critters and admitted defeat. If there has been a "theft" I try to save the plant and always have backups growing somewhere.

I have also made my peace with them. I am experimenting with Albuca Nelsonii in a very rocky patch where tunnelling would be arduous at best. The Albuca have never been so happy and no sign of invaders, yet...

I spoke too soon. The mole rats tunneled and pushed up stone heaps among the albuca and had a feast. Foiled again.

readers with the same problem. There were various solutions suggested including using a coke bottle cut to catch the wind and make a noise and peeing in the mole holes... not sure which, if any of, these will work... good luck!

Thanks. We tried the bottle method and the critters had a good time shoving them out until we got tired of the game. Another bottle method is to cut flaps in a plastic 2 litre bottle and upturn it on a dowel in the ground. The wind blows, the bottle fans whirr and the mole rats tunnel on.
Mole traps are inhumane because, unlike true moles which tunnel forward into the trap (a quicker death I hope), mole rats use their hind legs to push the soil backwards. They are thus subjected to a slow and painful death, unless one lifts the trap and does the death thing for them. (And if the kids get there first you realise, there are the tears, the vet's fees and the trip to the pet shop for a cage for the injured party.)

Many thanks to Gabriel who sent this email. I'm not sure if this will work for mole-rats as well, but I am certainly going to give it a try. 

hi,
i had [note past tense!] moles in my garden – i presume they now are in
neighbouring gardens ;-)
the recipe:
200ml castor oil [cheaper at supermarket than at pharmacy] & 250ml dish
washing liquid [sunlight] & 5l water – mix the latter; this is the
‘concentrate’
use 250ml ‘concentrate’ with 10l water and pour over most active mole
tunnels/runs and especially along man made borders which they use for
navigation/ease-of-travel purposes.
moles HATE castor oil!
God bless
gabriel

Hi!

Have just come across your wonderful site and this post. I wonder if you can identify the plant (see photos at http://wp.me/pYuZP-1Hj ) which a neighbour gave us. It is supposed to help keep moles away.

Thanks,
Lisa.

Hi Lisa

I went straight to your website and answered there without thinking. Anyway, here is the information again.
This plant is called Bryophyllum proliferum or Green mother of millions. It comes from Madagascar and is highly invasive in South Africa. It will root from even a broken piece of leaf and it produces baby plantlets along the edges of the leaves that fall everywhere and grow. I planted a couple of them in my garden in the Eastern Cape 4 years ago and I have been trying to get rid of the young plants for the last three years! It certainly did not discourage the moles or the molerats (which may be what you have). The plants are also poisonous to livestock. The plant has escaped from gardens in the areas around Durban, PE, Cape Town and most of Gauteng and is fast becoming an alien invader species. If you decide to grow it, make sure that any stems or leaves that you may cut off in the future are burnt, not sent to the rubbish dumps where they will get a chance to spread into the countryside. Such a pity as it makes a lovely shrub with pretty flowers.

So amazing how a little info will change your whole opinion of a creature
A lovely lady gave us a talk at Stodels last year about attracting birds and other creatures to your garden
She told us that Golden moles (Kruip moles) eat insects, I was thrilled!
I have a whole bulb bed now (live in CT) and the Sparaxis, Ixia, Fressia display in spring is awesome.
The Kruip mole trundles through them gobbling the bugs and I just gently water the soil back into place, the plants don't even fall over because the bulb is untouched and deep
Stamping the soil in seems to distress the plants
The bulbs are better than ever and are multiplying
OK, so I wouldn't be so chipper if it was mole rats but I wish people would leave the little ones alone
It seemed as if a lot of people at that talk didn't believe the lady
One woman stood up and said that the best way to get rid of moles was to spray and kill all the earthworms (of all things!)

Hi Liza

Sadly there is so little real understanding about the importance of preserving all species of wildlife within a garden environment. Many people want instant results and pristine perfection so all bugs and critters are poisoned or so frequently disturbed that they move away, resulting in a barren garden. Another anomaly that leaves me stumped is the number of people growing plants to entice butterflies to their gardens then poison off the resulting caterpillars, depriving birds of food sources ... the knock on effects are endless.

Kind regards
Lorraine

I build a trap and catch them one by one until nothing is left. I give the captured rats to the Meecat Manor research people - they also have a mole rat research project.

Hi Johan

It would be interesting to know more about your trap.

Useful to have a place to get rid of the creatures in a humane way. Where is the research project based?

Kind regards
Lorraine

how did you catch the mole alive I do not want to kill the moles.

hi can you help me with mole rat trap to make

Goeie dag Johan

Ek sal graag wil sien hoe jou trap lyk. Ek sit met 'n klomp in my tuin en wil hulle nie doodmaak nie. Vang en release.

Baie dankie

Please pass on details of a mole rat trap. I would be very interested in catching it and releasing it elsewhere. I have an enclosed courtyard planted with clivias (after every clivia planted elsewhere in the garden had been eaten) and the little blighter somehow has got under foundations and got in there and now eating his way through 20 year old clivias.
Thank you

can you help me with mole trap to catch alive to be releasing.

Good afternoon I am also looking for a humane way to cath the moles and relocate them outside town as our complex is built up and there's nowhere for the moles to go - except to my neighbours and back to me again. I have a small garden which has been neglected and they are running rampant.

Hi

Perhaps u could assist me with identifying what animal would make this type of holes on my lawn.I live in Durban.

Thanks so much for your assistance.

I have a tiny garden and these damn crazies have literally eaten everything the can with the result that I barely have anything left. I can't believe the advice is to let them be!

Hi Rebecca

I do sympathise with you. It must be so frustrating. I assume it is mole-rats that you are talking about? If so, please let me know what plants they have eaten.

The advice to let them be is simply that up to now, nobody has come up with a reliable way to get rid of them. Any ideas?

Kind regards
Lorraine

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