Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Species Spotlight: Eastern Mole

For many people, their only experience with moles is Mr. Mole of Wind in the Willows, or the all-too-familiar ridgetop trail through their lawns. Because moles seldom venture to the surface, they are seldom seen. In fact, if it weren't for their "sin" of creating ridges in our neatly trimmed and fertilized lawns, moles would likely be held in high esteem and accepted with enthusiasm. They perform such valuable functions as turning over and aerating the soil and consuming that dreaded lawn pest, the "white grub."

Illinois has a single species of mole, the eastern mole, Scalopus aquaticus. This secretive creature is found throughout the state, wherever the soil is friable enough to be pushed upward. The ideal, soft, moist soil, with considerable humus, is usually found in mature and second growth woods, pasture lands, gardens, cemeteries, and lawns. When soil is in good condition, as after a rain, moles can tunnel at a rate of 18 feet per hour.


The mole, with its heavy shoulders, short neck, and stout head, is built for digging underground. Its shovel-like front feet are broader than they are long, equipped with large, heavy claws, and held with their backs toward each other, the palms facing outward. Moles tunnel through the ground using a swimming motion. The forefeet are held close to their pick-shaped snouts and are used to push the dirt aside. The next place for the forefeet to repeat the process is decided upon by the probing snout. Soil is pushed upward with forefeet, not the head. As moles tunnel they search for food--earthworms, insect larvae, millipedes, and centipedes--to satisfy an insatiable appetite. A mole simply overwhelms its prey with little risk of injury or death to itself. It uses powerful forefeet to crush a grub or worm against the tunnel wall. But if the prey does put up a struggle, the mole may simply heap a little dirt on it and bite its head off.

Although moles hear well, they have no external ears to interfere with life in the soil. Their eyes are covered with fused eyelids and can do little more than distinguish between light and dark. The short, blackish fur is plush and will lay flat when stroked from either direction, offering no resistance as a mole moves forward or backward through its tunnel.

Moles are solitary creatures except during the brief spring mating season. In Illinois, this occurs anytime from January to May. Other than this time, moles that meet during their limited travels attack each other and will continue to fight until one retreats or is killed. About 28 to 45 days after breeding the female gives birth to her annual litter, usually four, in a grass-lined nest located 1 to 2 feet below the surface.

Before setting out your next mole trap, take a little time to appreciate these efficient soil engineers. Maybe a few ridges in your lawn aren't so bad after all.

Susan Post, Center for Economic Entomology.

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