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More moles munch yards for lunch

Moist soil has been conducive to greater survival rates among the critters
Sunday, July 29, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:55 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
David Ballenger stands near a mole mound in his side yard. His front and side yards contain many noticeable mole tunnels.

Columbia- Columbia residents are being faced with a familiar problem in unfamiliar proportions this summer: moles.

David Ballenger, of western Columbia, said he never had any of the pesky critters in his yard until this summer.

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“So far I’ve caught five, but there are one or two still active,” he said.

Mole Man owner David Hull, who specializes in critter control, estimated there’s been a 20-to-25 percent increase in calls about moles. He said that rain and snow over the fall and winter gave the soil extra moisture. That boosted the population of worms and grubs, which moles particularly enjoy.

“Moles usually lose 20 percent of their litter on average,” Hull said. “But I don’t think they lost hardly any because conditions were so conducive to their survival.”

Charles Nilon, an MU associate professor of fisheries and wildlife, said moles “really fluctuate in abundance. There can be a lot in some years and very few in other years. It has a lot to do with food availability and habitat change.”

Nilon explained that fertilized yards are prime feeding grounds for moles.

“Lawns and gardens typically have rich organisms in the soil, and that’s a big factor,” he said. “(Insects, grubs and other invertebrates) are good food sources.”

Though moles leave annoying ridges in backyards and gardens, Nilon said there’s no cause for serious concern.

And despite the pricey messes they make, moles are not dangerous, Hull said.

“Moles don’t carry disease or vermin,” he said. “There’s just the damage to the lawn, but that can be a problem, too, because some people spend $3,000 to $4,000 maintaining their lawns.”

In fact, mole infestation may have benefits, said Debby Fantz, a research scientist for the Missouri Department of Conservation. She said the tunnels moles leave in lawns actually improve soil quality by loosening the soil, increasing aeration and mixing deep soils with surface organic matter. Moles also help by eating both larvae and adult insects that can be detrimental to lawns and gardens, she said.

It’s up to the homeowner to decide whether to eradicate the moles or accept the good with the bad.

“Research is a good first step,” Nilon said. “It takes a little time to assess what the problem really is and how severe it is. There’s a lot of good companies and people that can help homeowners.”

Ballenger is taking the matter into his own hands. Though some of his neighbors are aggravated enough to hire pest control companies, he opted to go it alone.

“What I do is find a mole run and check to see if it’s active,” Ballenger said. “The way I do that is I take the palm of my hand and push down on the tunnel, and put a hole on each side of the print with a stick.”

Ballenger explained that if the holes have re-closed when he checks the next day, the tunnel is active. If it is, he uses a pronged and trigger-activated contraption to kill the moles. “It’s not something that I want to do,” he said. “But it’s either that or let them tear up my yard.”


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