Mole Cricket Management in Turfgrass

Prepared by Gary Forrester, Regional Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University. New 09/17

HGIC 2155

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Turfgrass management involves a basic knowledge of several different cultural practices, such as proper irrigation, fertilization, and mowing. However, a knowledge of insect pest and disease management can be just as important. Insects and diseases can be quite troublesome, and one very troublesome insect pest that causes significant damage to turfgrass in the Southern United States is the mole cricket.

In South Carolina, there are three species of mole crickets that occur mainly in the sandy coastal regions. They include the tawny mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus vicinus), the southern mole cricket (Neoscapteriscus borellii), and the northern mole cricket (Neocurtilla hexadactyla). The tawny mole cricket, and to a lesser extent, the southern mole cricket, are important pests that have a major impact on turfgrass management programs. The northern mole cricket is native to South Carolina but causes little, if any, damage to lawns.

Both the tawny and southern mole crickets are introduced species in the United States. These species are believed to have been introduced into the United States in the ballasts of ships from South America. Mole crickets were first detected in coastal port towns, such as Brunswick GA, Charleston SC and Mobile AL, during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Once established, these insects spread rapidly through the sandy coastal areas of the southeast.

Of these, the tawny mole cricket is most destructive to home lawns. It feeds almost exclusively on turfgrass roots and shoots, while the southern mole cricket feeds primarily on small organisms in the soil and rarely on the turf itself. In addition to their destructive feeding habits, these insects tunnel through the soil just beneath the lawn. This tunneling can be severely damaging to highly managed turfgrass, especially golf greens.

Description

Both the tawny and southern mole cricket have cricket-like appearance. Like all insects, they have three pairs of legs, three segmented body parts, and a set of antennae. Their forelegs are modified for digging through the soil and resemble the front legs of a mole. The tawny mole cricket is a bigger, more robust insect as compared to the southern mole cricket. The tawny mole cricket is tan colored, while the southern mole cricket is darker brown to almost black. Four lightly colored dots located on top of the head is another distinctive characteristic of the southern mole cricket. The tawny mole crickets mature to 1½- to 2-inches long, while the the smaller southern mole cricket matures to 1- to 1½-inches long.

As a comparison, above are the northern, short-winged, tawny, and Southern mole crickets.
As a comparison, above are the northern, short-winged, tawny, and Southern mole crickets.
University of Georgia, Bugwood.org

Life Cycle

Successful mole cricket management programs include a thorough knowledge of the life cycle of the insect.

Both the southern and tawny mole crickets have similar life cycles in South Carolina. Fortunately, these mole crickets have only one generation per year. In regions further south, they can have two or more generations per year.

Mole crickets have three life stages in their development, the egg stage, the immature stage (also known as the larval or nymph stage), and the adult stage. Mole crickets can overwinter as either an immature or adult, from October through March. Although typically inactive while overwintering, periods of warm winter weather may cause them to become more active. Small tunneling or mound building can be seen during these warm spells. Mole crickets overwintering as immatures will develop into adults during the spring.

As temperatures warm from late March into April, adults become more active as they begin to fly and start the mating process. Adult males seek out a good area for females to lay eggs, they may return to the same spot year after year. This is the reason why mole crickets are often found in the same areas of the lawn each year. 

The forelegs of mole crickets are strong, flattened, and have 4 claw-like projections for digging.
The forelegs of mole crickets are strong, flattened, and have 4 claw-like projections for digging.
Natasha Wright, Cook’s Pest Control, Bugwood.org

Once a suitable location is found, the male will dig a small tunnel or chamber with an opening to the soil surface. A small mound of soil with a visible opening may appear in the lawn during this time. This mating chamber is a funnel-shaped and acts as a megaphone for the male as it calls out to females.

Though similar in appearance to earthworm mounds, mole cricket calling chambers differ in that earthworm mounds appear as though constructed with the small, round pellet-like granules, while the mole cricket mounds appear like the soil was pushed up from underneath with a hole in the middle.

To attract a female, the male produces a low cricket-like chirp for about an hour after sunset. These calls may be heard during warm nights in late March and April.

Once a female has been attracted, mating occurs within the chamber. Shortly after mating, she digs down several inches in the soil and lays a cluster of around 35 eggs. Females will typically construct 3 to 5 chambers and lay 100 to 150 eggs. Males die after mating, while females die shortly after laying eggs.

Eggs typically hatch approximately 20 days after being laid. Egg hatching is soil temperature dependent, with early warm temperatures causing earlier egg hatch, and cooler spring temperatures delaying egg hatch by as much as a month.

After egg hatch, the immature, or nymph, mole cricket is about ¼-inch long. As the immature cricket grows, it sheds its outer layer (called molting), somewhat like a snake sheds its skin. The younger nymphs do not have wings but grow wing pads as they slowly mature. They go through six to eight molts during the immature stage.

The immature growth stage typically occurs from mid-May through July in South Carolina. Again, this is temperature dependent and the timing of this stage may be shifted with the changing spring temperatures. Although the small mole crickets are feeding during this time, little damage is produced. The reasons for this are because they are still small, and the warm-season turfgrasses are growing rapidly and mask any damage.

As mole crickets reach maturity from late August to October, they now produce significant damage to lawns occurs due to their tunneling and feeding habits. Soil temperature and moisture influence mole cricket activity with more feeding damage observed during warm, wet weather.

By October, mole crickets reach their mature stage. Activity can be quite sporadic at this time due to the fluctuating fall temperatures. Once winter temperatures set in, mole crickets move deeper into the soil to overwinter.

Mole Cricket Management

Successful mole cricket management requires both patience and regular monitoring of mole cricket activity. Unfortunately, management is not as simple as applying an insecticide and being done. Successful mole cricket management depends upon well-timed controls measures and good cultural practices. Maintain proper soil nutrients by testing the soil and applying the recommended fertilizers and lime. Mow the lawn at the correct height for the grass species, and irrigate properly for the season, temperature, and soil type. For more information, please see fact sheets HGIC 1652, Soil Testing, HGIC 1207, Watering Lawns, and HGIC 1205 Mowing Lawns.

The intensity of a mole cricket management program is determined by the purpose for the turfgrass in question. Highly maintained sports turf, such as a golf course putting green requiring a smooth and blemish-free surface with zero tolerance for mole cricket activity, will require intense management. Sod farms and areas used for sports, such as football, baseball, or soccer fields, can tolerate slightly more mole cricket activity. While commercial and home lawns can tolerate the most mole cricket activity. Therefore, the management level chosen should be tailored to the specific situation and the accepted tolerance to turfgrass damage.

Monitoring & Managing

Before beginning any control program, it must first be determined if there is a mole cricket infestation. To determine when to apply the treatment, first use a soapy water drench in the areas where the mole crickets are located. Mix 1 to 2 fluid ounces of a liquid dish soap in a gallon of water, and then pour this mixture onto a 2 square foot area. They will come to the soil surface rather quickly if present. This will aid in the identification of mole cricket species and what life stage is present.

If so, then map the area within the lawn where this infestation is located and note the extent of the insect population. Mole crickets will generally infest the same areas of turfgrass year after year. By ‘mapping’ infested areas, more accurate pest management can be performed, as only those areas of turf infested with mole crickets are treated, resulting in a reduction in the amount of insecticides applied.

Begin monitoring the mapped area during late winter for signs of poor turf growth and loosened soil. As temperatures begin to warm in the spring, continue to watch for tunneling and mound building. Chemical control for adults is not recommended during the spring unless insect activity is excessive and results in turf loss because once egg laying is complete, all adults die and no further damage should occur.

The best time to treat the lawn with insecticides for mole crickets is during June and July because turfgrass damage is minor and the mole crickets are still immature and small.

Additional summer chemical treatments of nymphs along the coast of South Carolina are usually made in mid-July to early August. During this time, the majority of eggs will have hatched, and the mole crickets are less than ½-inch in length. Additionally, the soil should be warm and moist providing maximum cricket activity, which improves pesticide efficacy (effectiveness). If the soil is very dry due to a lack of rainfall, water the lawn well or wait until there is an inch of rainfall because the mole crickets dig down deeper into the soil during dry periods, reducing the effectiveness of pesticide applications.

A mole cricket management program will not provide 100% control. Mole cricket activity and chemical efficacy are both influenced by weather and soil conditions. With these conditions constantly changing, the reduction of mole cricket populations in turfgrass becomes more of a “management” solution instead of a “control” solution. Summer treatments may need to be followed by an early fall follow up treatment if insect activity is still high. Winter chemical treatments are the least effective and should only be applied during warm periods if insect activity spikes. In addition to lower insect activity in the winter, chemicals are less effective on larger, mature insects.

Control Measures

There are both chemical and nonchemical options to manage mole crickets in turfgrass. Nonchemical choices are limited, though new techniques are continuously being evaluated. Some beneficial insects and diseases have shown promise for reduction of mole cricket populations. However, at this time, the only commercially available product employs a beneficial nematode for control. When applied to a turf area, the nematodes infect mole crickets with a bacterium, which in turn kills them. Management with beneficial nematode can be slow and may not prove to be as effective as chemical control.

Mole cricket baits may be purchased at local garden centers or feed and seed stores. These baits provide good mole cricket control, especially during the spring and fall when adults are active. Be sure to read and follow all label directions for applications. Do not water the lawn for 2 to 3 days after a bait application.

Several chemical insecticides are labeled for mole cricket control in residential turfgrass. When applying a lawn insecticide, it is very important to read and follow all label directions pertaining to timing and method of application. Water the lawn well the day before application of baits and granular or liquid insecticides. Additionally, most insecticides must be watered into the lawn after application. Mole cricket baits also will need the lawn to be watered the day before application, but one the bait is applied, do not water the lawn again for 2 to 3 days, as this will dissolve the bait. Apply all mole cricket insecticides and baits as late in the day as possible.

For Home Lawn Applications: Insecticides and baits are available for mole cricket control in residential lawns, and these may be purchased at most garden centers, feed and seed stores, and landscape supply stores. These products include granular and spray insecticides with the following active ingredients within three insecticidal classes:

  • neonicotinoids: imidacloprid or clothianidin,
  • organophosphates: triclorfon,
  • synthetic pyrethroids: lambda or gamma cyhalothrin, bifenthrin, beta cyfluthrin, zeta cypermethrin, or permethrin.

Mole crickets may develop a resistance to one specific class of insecticide if it used for several repeated applications in the lawn. Therefore, alternate applications using products where each contains a different class of insecticide. For example, if the first lawn application contains a synthetic pyrethroid, then the second application should contain a neonicotinoid or organophosphate insecticide. A few combination products contain two classes of insecticides, which also prevents resistance from occurring.

Mole cricket baits are available and contain carbaryl or indoxacarb, which are uniquely different classes of insecticides from the granular or spray insecticides above, and these can be used to further reduce the chance of insecticidal resistance by the mole crickets. See Table 1 for examples of products containing these active ingredients.

For Landscape Professionals: An extensive list of insecticide controls is included in Clemson University’s Pest Control Guidelines for Professional Turfgrass Managers. This publication is updated annually and gives turfgrass managers a valuable tool for chemical control selection.


Table 1. Examples of Insecticide & Bait Products for Mole Cricket Control in Residential Lawns.
Brand & ProductActive Ingredient(s)Forms, Sizes Rates
RTS = Ready to Spray (hose-end, pre-mixed bottles)
Notes: Water the lawn the day before application of either insecticides or baits. Then make applications of products late in the day. Water in all liquid & granular insecticide products, but do water in baits.
Many of the above products may be purchased at feed & seed stores or landscaper supply stores, and some brands, such as Bayer Advanced, Ortho, & Spectracide, may be found at big box stores.
Pyrethroid Insecticides
Martin’s Bifen I/T Concentrate Bifenthrin 7.9% Conc.: 4, 16, 32, 96 & 128 fl oz
Talstar P Professional Insecticide Bifenthrin 7.9% Conc,: 16, 32, 96 & 128 fl oz
Hi-Yield Bug Blaster Bifenthrin 2.4 Concentrate & RTS Bifenthrin 2.4% Conc.: 16, & RTS: 32 fl oz
Monterey Turf & Ornamental Insect Spray  RTS Bifenthrin 2.4% RTS: 32 fl oz for 10.6k sq ft
Ferti-Lome Broad Spectrum Insecticide Concentrate; & RTS Bifenthrin 0.3% Conc.: 16 fl oz
RTS: 32 fl oz for 2667 sq ft
Martin’s Flee RTS Yard Spray Bifenthrin 0.3% RTS: 32 fl oz for 2667 sq ft
Martin’s Bifen L/P Granules Bifenthrin 0.2% Granules: 25 lb/ 5 to 10k sq ft
Hi-Yield Bug Blaster Turf Insect Control Granules Bifenthrin 0.2% 11.5 lb & 23 lb bags Use
2.3 – 4.6 lbs per 1000 sq ft
Hi-Yield Bug Blaster II Granules Bifenthrin 0.2% Granules: 11.5 lbs for 5k
sq ft.; 23 lbs for 10k sq ft
Southern Ag LawnStar Granular Insecticide Bifenthrin 0.2% Granules 10 & 20 lbs
Ortho Bug-B-Gon Insect Killer for Lawns Bifenthrin  0.115% Granules: 10 & 20&# lbs bags
Amdro Quick Kill Lawn Insect Killer Granules Bifenthrin  0.1% Granules: 10 lbs/ 8300 sq ft
Amdro Kills Ants & Spiders Granules Bifenthrin  0.1% Granules: 3lbs/ 2500 sq ft
Anderson’s Duocide Insect Control Granules Bifenthrin 0.058%
Carbaryl 2.3%
40 lb bag 4 – 8 lb/ 1000 sq ft
Ortho Bug-B-Gon Insect Killer for Lawns & Gardens Concentrate; & RTS Bifenthrin  0.3%
Zeta Cypermethrin 0.075%
Conc.: 32 fl oz RTS: 32 fl oz
Ortho Home Defense Insect Killer for Lawns & Landscape Conc., & RTS Bifenthrin  0.3%
Zeta Cypermethrin 0.075%
Conc.: 32 fl oz RTS: 32 fl oz
Amdro Quick Kill Outdoor Insect Killer Concentrate; & RTS Zeta Cypermethrin 0.35% Conc.; 32 fl oz RTS: 32 fl oz/ 4267 sq ft
Gordon’s Bug-No-More Lawn & Garden Insect Control Concentrate Zeta Cypermethrin 0.35% Conc.; 40 fl oz
Bayer Advanced Vegetable & Garden Insect Spray Concentrate; & RTS Beta- Cyfluthrin  0.75% Conc.: 32 fl oz RTS: 32 fl oz for 5333 sq ft
Martin’s Cyonara 9.7 Insecticide Concentrate Lambda-Cyhalothrin 9.7% 32 fl oz
Martin’s Cyonara Lawn & Garden RTS; & Concentrate Lambda-Cyhalothrin 0.5% RTS: 32 fl oz for 16k sq ft
Bonide Beetle Killer RTS Lambda-Cyhalothrin 0.5% RTS: 32 fl oz for 8000 sq ft
Cutter Backyard Bug Control Spray Concentrate RTS Lambda-Cyhalothrin 0.16% RTS: 32 fl oz for 5120 sq ft
Spectracide Triazicide Insect Killer for Lawns & Landscapes Gamma-Cyhalothrin 0.08% Conc.: 32 fl oz
RTS: 32 fl oz /5k sq ft
Spectracide Triazicide Insect Killer For Lawns Granules Gamma-Cyhalothrin  0.05% Granules:
1, 10, & 20 lb.
20 lbs for 25k
Hi-Yield 38 Plus Turf, Termite & Ornamental Insect Control Concentrate Permethrin 38% Conc.: 8, 16, 32, & 128 fl oz
Southern Ag Permetrol Lawn Insecticide Concentrate Permethrin  10% Conc.: 8 & 16 fl oz
Hi-Yield Indoor/Outdoor Broad Use Insecticide Concentrate Permethrin  10% Conc.: 8, 16, & 32 fl oz
Hi-Yield Lawn, Garden, Pet & Livestock Insect Control Concentrate (For use on Bermuda, Fescue & St Augustine lawns only) Permethrin  10% Conc.: 16 & 32 fl oz
Bonide Eight Insect Control, Vegetable Fruit & Flower Concentrate Permethrin  2.5% Conc.: 16 & 32 fl oz
Bonide Eight Insect Control, Yard & Garden RTS Permethrin  2.5% RTS: 32 fl oz for 5000 sq ft
Hi-Yield Kill-A-Bug II Lawn Granules Permethrin  0.5% Granules: 2.25, 10, & 20 lb bags;
10 lb: 5k sq ft
Hi-Yield Turf ranger Insect Control Granules Deltamethrin  0.1% Granules: 10 lb for 5k & 20 lbs for 10k
Neonicotinoid Insecticides
Bonide Systemic Insect Spray with Systemaxx RTS Imidacloprid  1.47% RTS: 32 fl oz
Bayer Advanced Season Long Grub Control RTS Imidacloprid 1.47% RTS: 32 fl oz for 5k sq ft
Hi-Yield Systemic Insect Spray Concentrate; & RTS Imidacloprid  1.47% RTS: 32 fl oz for 3560 sq ft Conc: 16 fl oz
Bonide Dura Turf Insect & Grub Control Granules Imidacloprid  0.5% Granules: 6 lbs for 5k sq ft; & 18 lbs
Southern Ag Grubs Away Imidacloprid 0.5G Imidacloprid  0.5% Granules: 9 & 30 lb bags; 1.4 to 1.8 lbs/1k sq ft
Hi-Yield Grub Free Zone III Imidacloprid  0.5% Granules: 10 lbs for 7k sq ft
Bayer Advanced Season Long Grub Control Plus Turf Revitalizer Granules Imidacloprid  0.25% & 6-0-1 fertilizer Granules: 12 & 24 lb bags
Hi-Yield Grub Free Zone II Imidacloprid  0.2% Granules: 15 & 30 lbs; 15 lbs for 5k sq ft
Gordon’s Grub No More Granules Imidacloprid  0.2% Granules: 30 lbs for 10k sq ft
Organophosphate Insecticides
Bayer Advanced 24 Hour Grub Killer Plus (a contact grub killer) Trichlorfon 9.3%
(same a.i. as Dylox)
Granules: 10 lbs for 5000; & 20 lbs for 10k sq ft
Bayer Dylox 6.2 Granular Insecticide (a contact grub killer) Trichlorfon 6.2% Granules: 30 lb for 10k sq ft
Pyrethroid & Neonicotinoid Insecticide Combinations
Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Killer Concentrate; & RTS Imidacloprid  0.72%
Beta-cyfluthrin  0.36%
Conc.: 40 fl oz
RTS: 32 fl oz for 5334 sq ft
Bayer Allectus G Imidacloprid 0.20%
Bifenthrin 0.16%
Granules: 2.9 lbs per 1000 sq ft
Bayer Advanced Complete Insect Killer Granules Imidacloprid  0.15%
Beta-cyfluthrin  0.05%
Granules: 10 lb (for 5 – 10k sq ft); & 20 lb
Bonide DuraTurf Insect & Grub Control Lambda-Cyhalothrin 0.1%
Imidacloprid 0.5%
Granules: 6lbs for 7500 sq ft
Aloft LC G Clothianidin 0.250%
Bifenthrin 0.125%
Granules: 3.6 lbs per 1000 sq ft
Mole Cricket Baits
Advion Insect Granules Indoxacarb 0.22% 1.15 – 4.6 lb/1k 25 lb bag
Southern Ag Mole Cricket Bait Carbaryl 5% 3.6 lb bag; Use 1 lb/1100 -1300 sq ft

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.