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LIVING WITH WILDLIFE

Shallow-Tunneling Moles Do Little Harm to Large Plants

October 22, 2000|ANDREA KITAY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Question: We've had a mole in our backyard for about a year but it was not a concern until recently. My wife and I just put in about 50 feet of bamboo, which required us to dig a 50-foot-long trench, 3 feet wide and 3 feet deep. We lined it with heavy plastic to contain the roots. We've seen mole trails within 6 inches of the barrier. Do you know if moles will eat through a plastic barrier?

D.L.

Via e-mail

Answer: Moles are insectivores whose diet is made up of white grubs, earthworms and beetles, with some ants and a little incidental vegetation thrown in.

While they can damage grass roots badly enough to kill off strips of it with their nonstop, shallow tunneling through lawns, they'll do little to no damage to larger plants, or your plastic, for that matter. Chances are the mole will work his way through the soil up to the barrier, eat the earthworms and any other yummies near it, then veer away from the inedible plastic.

For now, your bamboo and plastic are probably safe, but if you start to notice gopher mounds, your luck's run out.

Readers Offer Weapons for Fighting Fleas

An immediate and cheap attack against flea infestation: Set out cake pans (or other shallow bowls) of soapy water. Attracted to the moisture, the fleas hop into the pan where the soap breaks the surface tension, causing the fleas to sink and drown. You'll be amazed by the number of fleas you will collect. Of course, you must follow up with the serious stuff, but this will help immensely.

G.C.

Whittier

I had the same trouble 25 years ago with my cats bringing in fleas. I was using foggers but did not like the fact they are poisonous to all living creatures.

So I salted every area the cats had been in, in addition to all of my carpets. This was very successful, and I was never bitten again by fleas.

The salt never caused any problems to the materials in the house, to the cats or to us. Salting one's carpets is good because when you walk on it, you are getting it deep into the fibers where flea eggs start to hatch.

A.C.

Redondo Beach

Lived with 'em for a few years on the Westside. Found that interrupting the life cycle in carpets with a mixture of salt and baking soda was very effective, as well as safe (two parts soda to one part salt). Just work it into the carpet about once a year, vacuum off what's on top, and no more hatchlings.

W.P.

Newbury Park

Bats Prefer Patio Roof to Specially Built Box

Q: We have two bats that have made their home under our covered patio roof, wedging themselves between the patio roof and the chimney. We built a bat box according to specifications we found in a book and hung it where they seem to like to rest. We were hoping to attract more, but they won't use it. Fortunately, our efforts have not frightened off the two that we have.

Can you give us any suggestions on how to coax them into the box? The box is not hung as high as was suggested due to the height of the patio roof, but it is directly next to the area where they rest.

M.B.

Camarillo

A: Savvy homeowners like yourself have begun to realize the flying mammals' value as voracious bug eaters--particularly those aquatic insects that are attracted to humans, like mosquitoes and gnats. A single bat can eat thousands of bugs a night.

As far as your bat house goes, there could be a number of reasons why those bats aren't interested in the box, including the plans you made it from.

There are a lot of bat houses and bat house plans available today, but many haven't followed the strict guidelines from Bat Conservation International, the premier bat conservation organization. Their work over the years has led to the development of specific construction guidelines. Unfortunately, this can make building a good bat house complicated.

So take a look at the plans again. If you question their quality on a second look or they lack the Bat Conservation approval stamp, give the group a call at (512) 327-9721and ask them to take a look at your plans.

If you've built it correctly using decent materials, did you paint the bat house?

Color is important because it affects the temperature of the roosting chamber. The difference of a few degrees can cause bats to avoid your house.

Color choice should vary depending on the "average daytime high temperature in July." Less than 85 degrees, the house should be painted black; between 85 and 95 degrees, dark green or dark brown; between 95 and 100 degrees, barn red or medium brown, and over 100 degrees average July temperature, light brown or gray.

Next, make sure your bat house is vented. While some plans recommend unvented houses, those are best suited for cooler, northern climates. Vents help regulate the temperature in the house, so on cooler days the bats can move upward in the chambers, and downward toward the vent when it's warmer. They're a good idea for bat houses in the Southland.

Finally, the house should have six to 10 hours of sunlight each day.

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