How to Stop Mole Crickets From Damaging Your Lawn
Mole crickets are one of the most destructive turf grass pests in the southeastern U.S. Here's how to send them packing before they devastate your lawn.
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Mole critics satisfy an insatiable appetite for tender grass roots and shoots by tunneling under turf, wreaking havoc on lawns across the southeastern U.S. each year.
“Small tunnels appearing near the surface of your soil or a spongy feel to your lawn may be symptoms of mole crickets,” says Drew Wagner, chief technical officer for Sod Solutions. “Grass will eventually turn brown and die in these areas.”
Although you may begin to notice signs of mole cricket infestation in early spring, these pesky critters are most active — and destructive — in late August to October. This is good news because it gives you time to intervene and stop them in their tracks. Follow our tips below on how to monitor for mole crickets and save your lawn from an infestation.
What Are Mole Crickets?
Mole crickets — also known as cricket moles, lawn crickets or flying moles — are a common turf grass pest in the southeastern U.S. Adults grow to between one and two inches long, vary in color from light to dark brown, and sport large mole-like front claws for burrowing under the surface of the soil.
These destructive invaders start life as eggs and generally cycle through one generation a year, or two generations during the longer warm season in the southernmost states.
Adult mole crickets overwinter in their underground tunnels, emerging to mate in the spring. Males die after mating, while females dig deep into the soil to lay up to 150 eggs before dying themselves. These eggs hatch about three weeks later. By late spring the developing mole cricket nymphs begin tunneling and feeding on grass roots and shoots.
Although they spend much of their time in underground burrows, adult mole crickets can fly and are attracted to light. They’re nocturnal, and you may spot one at night near your outdoor lighting.
Types of Mole Crickets
Mole crickets belong to the family Gryllotalpidae, along with grasshoppers, locusts and normal crickets. There are lots of native and introduced species in the U.S., but the most common and destructive are:
The northern or common mole cricket (Neocurtilla hexadactyla);
The tawny mole cricket (Scapteriscus vicinus);
The short-winged mole cricket (Scapteriscus abbreviatus);
The southern mole cricket (Scapteriscus acletus).
How Do Mole Crickets Damage Your Lawn?
There are two ways a mole cricket infestation can damage your lawn, creating unsightly brown and dead patches.
First, mole crickets weaken and kill turf grass by feeding on roots and shoots, especially during the late spring and early summer when nymphs are going through their molting stages. Second, by burrowing through the surface layer of soil, mole crickets push the ground up in small ridges. That increases surface moisture evaporation, disturbs germinating seeds and damages the turf grass roots.
Signs of Mole Crickets
According to Wagner, three important signs indicate mole crickets have taken up residency in your yard. These need to be monitored to avoid a population explosion:
Tunnels that push up soil and grass;
Brown and dying grass;
Small mounds of soil with a discernible opening where mole crickets lay eggs in spring.
Wagner suggests a simple technique to confirm the presence of mole crickets. “Add one to two ounces of dish soap to a gallon of water and saturate the suspected area,” he says. “This should quickly reveal both immature and adult mole crickets as they come to the surface.”
Once you can confirm these pests are around, act fast to avoid a devastating infestation. You need to get rid of the destructive nymphs ASAP before damage is evident to the naked eye.
Identify adult activity in spring to suss out where eggs may be. Although treating your lawn for adults during the early spring can reduce tunneling and egg laying, follow up with nymph treatments in the late spring and early summer when the insects are newly hatched and vulnerable. This is essential to avoid a recurrence later in the year.
How to Get Rid of Mole Crickets
You can opt for natural or chemical methods to rid your yard of mole crickets:
Natural methods. Nematodes (worm-like parasites) can be used to treat mole crickets. Wagner suggests this type of nematode product, which can be effective in the late summer and early fall.
Chemical treatments. Liquid or granular insecticides can be effective as long as the product permeates the soil. “Important active ingredients for mole cricket insecticides are bifenthrin, carbaryl, imidacloprid, gramma cyhalothrin, deltamethrin and permethrin,” Wagner says. “Fall is a critical time for applying insecticides to thin the population before they overwinter deep into the soil. If an infestation is caught in the late spring, however, insecticides can also be effective in early June and July when adults are active.”
How to Prevent Mole Crickets From Coming Back
The best way of ensuring mole crickets are gone for good? Regular treatments with a residual preventative product or mole cricket bait that contains imidacloprid or a synthetic pyrethroid. Keep in mind that the timing of treatments is critical to catch the mole crickets at their weakest.
Mole crickets are also attracted to bright exterior lights. So keep your lights off when not needed, or switch to yellow bug lights or sodium vapor lamps.