It’s that time of year when you might be experiencing irritating heaps of soil appearing on your lawn overnight, or threads on the surface of the lawn breaking open. The reason for this sudden activity is because both the golden mole and the mole rat, two insectivorous mammals, are busy feeding and mating and their activity is obvious!
The golden mole : There are 21 species of the golden mole, an ancient, endangered species of mammal that is endemic to South Africa. This little guy with his muscular shoulders and strong, short legs, burrows to find his favourite food – earthworms (don’t worry, there are more than enough to go around), snails, crickets, and termites. He has non-functioning eyes because he spends his life underground so if he does surface for any reason, you will probably find him floundering, looking for a bare patch of earth where he can dig to go back to where he is comfortable.
Mole rats are deeper burrowing mammals. While most species are herbivores, feeding on roots, bulbs, tubers, vegetables, and rhizomes, they also snack on ants, worms, insect larvae and invertebrates. They seldom, if ever, come to the surface, but the soil that they disturb while burrowing is what appears as those large heaps on your lawn.
When one realises just how hard these miniscule mammals work and how vulnerable they are to injury or death caused by dogs and cats, there can be no earthly reason why anyone should want to kill them. I saved a golden mole from my freezing pool this past weekend. A neighbour’s cat had clearly hunted him because it was sitting at the pool watching as he floated helplessly. The poor little guy was ice cold, so I dried him off and allowed him to snuggle under my jacket to warm while he mewed like a little kitten. He was clearly relieved when I put him on some soft earth a little later.
The mole rat is the one that eats bulbs and roots, so the most environmentally way to send him packing is to level the mounds and wait for a second to appear so that you can see in which direction he is travelling. Using a strong-smelling solution made from garlic and/or castor oil, drench the burrow where the mole rat is active and hope that it works. Make sure that you are chasing him towards open ground and not towards concrete, paving or the house.
You can also purchase an electronic device that emits a vibration as both species of mammal are sensitive to vibrations. Raised beds work well for vegetable gardens but line the base of the bed with chicken wire before adding your soil. This wire can also be used to create wire baskets for bulbs, potatoes, and other root crops.
If you have a heart, please tolerate these tiny mammals in your garden, and don’t kill them.