Although they have burrowing habits like rodents, moles are members of the mammalian order Insectivora, which also includes the shrews. While some landowners disdain moles, their benefits are numerous. Predators of moles include snakes, skunks, foxes, weasels, coyotes, hawks and owls.
Depending on the species, moles are approximately 4 to 8 inches from head to tail. They have oversized, powerful shoulders and front legs, as well as hand-like front feet, which are well suited for digging in soil. Moles are well adapted as underground predators, possessing long, probing snouts, small eyes and ears, and short, velvety fur.
Three species of moles reside in Massachusetts:
- Eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus), found throughout southern Massachusetts; it’s tail is short and hairless.
- Hairy-tailed mole (Parascalops breweri), found in all of Massachusetts except for the Cape and Islands; its tail is longer and covered with stiff hairs.
- Star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata), found throughout the entire state; its 22 fleshy tentacles arranged in a star-like circle around its nose make it easy to identify. It is thought that these serve as sensing devices, helping the mole find prey.
Moles are active year-round, day and night, in search for food. The eastern and hairy-tailed moles are solitary creatures, coming together only during the spring breeding season. Star-nosed moles live in small colonies, pairing in the fall and remaining together until the young are born.
The eastern mole lives most of its life underground, preferring loose, well-drained soil. It is found in open areas such as fields and meadows, but also occurs in thinly wooded areas. The hairy-tailed mole also prefers well-drained soil, and is found in shrubby fields or woods. Star-nosed moles prefer habitats characterized by moist soil, often near wetlands and damp woods, and are often found at the surface, as opposed to under, the ground.
Moles in Massachusetts mate once a year, during March or April. The male and female separate after mating and she raises the young alone.
After a 4 to 6 week gestation period, females produce one litter of 2 to 7 young. They’re helpless, naked and blind at birth, but are nearly adult-sized and sighted by three weeks. Young moles leave the nest at about 5 to 6 weeks and become sexually mature by the end of their first year. Moles may live up to four years in the wild.
Diet & Food
A mole’s diet consists primarily of worms, snails, slugs, and insects. It may include small amounts of vegetation and seeds. Moles often consume an amount of food equal to 60 to 100 percent of their body weight daily. To satisfy this demand for food a mole will dig up to 150 feet of new tunnels a day.
Moles construct two types of tunnels: those at or near the surface and those deep (6 to 20 inches) underground. The trails visible above ground and just under the surface are feeding tunnels that are often used only once. The deeper tunnels lead to feeding and living chambers, and are used repeatedly.
Situations & Solutions
Moles often get a bad rap. They are blamed for eating vegetation and seeds in backyard gardens, which is more likely the work of voles and mice. And while some landowners disdain moles, their benefits are numerous.
They consume larvae and adults of many pest insects, such as Japanese beetles. In addition, their tunneling activity loosens the soil, aerating it and mixing deeper soils with surface material, all of which improve soil quality.
Mole activity in a given area is likely to be temporary or seasonal, and often stops before any control action can be undertaken. In extreme cases, however, you may want to take action.
- Don't over water your lawn. Over watering can keep earthworms and other mole prey near the surface and result in increased surface tunneling.
- Encourage native plant species to establish themselves in the lawn. Native grasses do not usually require as frequent watering as non-native species.
- Erect barriers around small flower or garden beds by burying quarter-inch mesh hardware cloth 12 inches deep, with a 12-inch extension at a 90-degree angle. This fencing should extend 5 inches above ground.
- A castor-oil mixture has been known repel moles. To treat a given area, sprinkle a castor oil mixture on the ground after a heavy rain or watering. Castor oil mixture directions: Whip 2 ounces of castor oil with 1 ounce of liquid dish detergent in a blender until it holds its shape. Add 6 tablespoons of water and whip again. Fill a sprinkling can with water, add two tablespoons of the castor mixture and sprinkle on areas of heaviest concentration of burrowing.
- Milky spore disease, a naturally-occurring fungus available in commercial form, may help reduce the number of grubs and limit the mole's food supply in due time. This option is most effective when used in combination with one of the options described above.
Moles and the Law
Relocating wildlife is illegal in Massachusetts. It is detrimental to the well-being of wildlife as well as the public. Learn More
Moles and Disease
Moles are not susceptible to rabies and present no real health threat to humans.