Moles vs Voles

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Each spring, we get several calls about moles and voles and turf damage caused by these pests. While the name ‘mole’ sounds very similar to the name ‘vole’ – the two are quite different animals. Even though both can damage your turf, it is important to understand their differences and the different methods needed to eradicate them.

The East­ern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) is the most numerous and widespread, and is responsible for most of the complaints concerning mole damage to lawns and gardens.

The East­ern mole (Scalopus aquaticus) is the most numerous and widespread, and is responsible for most of the complaints concerning mole damage to lawns and gardens.

Moles are not rodents. They belong to the group of mammals known as insectivores, and thus are related to the shrew. Eastern moles have pointed snouts, greatly enlarged, rounded front feet with stout claws, and a short, nearly naked tail. They are six to eight inches long with short, velvety fur that is usually gray to silvery-gray. The eyes and ears of moles are very small and are concealed in the fur.

It is a common misconception that treating a lawn for grubs will prevent an infestation of moles. Moles feed primarily on earthworms, but may also feed on spiders, beetles, centipedes, grubs and other insect larvae or pupae.

Moles make two types of underground burrows:

  • Shallow surface runs, which they use to find food. These tunnels leave create pushed up ridges as the mole “swims” through the loose topsoil. While these surface tunnels may be used frequently at first, they are eventually allowed to collapse, leaving a cracked depression in the lawn.
  • Deep burrows are also created as the mole’s main home. The deep burrow is marked by volcano-shaped mounds of dirt that the moles push up when digging.

During their burrowing activities, they produce mounds and ridges that disfigure lawns and sometimes dislodge plants or injure plant roots. Their mounds also provide a medium for the germination of weed seeds.

Moles’ tunneling can cause cracks in concrete sidewalks and can even affect your foundation. Long-term damage can also be extensive. Moles are exceptional diggers and can tunnel up to 12-15 ft per hour. This can cause deep tunnels that can sink your entire soil level or cause large sunken areas in your lawn.

Gophers are burrowing rodents and members of the zoological family Geomyidae. The designation “pocket” before the word gopher refers to the pockets in the gopher’s cheeks which are used by the gopher to carry food, nesting materials and other small supplies into their tunnels.

Gophers are burrowing rodents and members of the zoological family Geomyidae. The designation “pocket” before the word gopher refers to the pockets in the gopher’s cheeks which are used by the gopher to carry food, nesting materials and other small supplies into their tunnels.

Sometimes, it can be hard to tell if you have a mole or a gopher! Mole hills tend to have a volcano-shape with a hole in the center of the top. Gophers, on the other hand, will kick out the dirt in a more oblong shape with a hole at one end.

Your Quality Care technician can place mole baits in the runs to kill the moles and keep save your lawn from potential damage. Please call the Quality Care office for more information.

Again, the Iowa State Extension office can provide you with alternatives to our bait-method of mole control. Their phone number is 319-337-2145. We highly recommend such alternative methods for dog owners- particularly for breeds that are likely to dig baits out of the runs.

Our friends at the University of Missouri Extension have additional information on Controlling Nuisance Moles if you are interested.

Voles are true rodents, and belong to the order Rodentia and family Arvicolidae . The word vole refers to “field”– earlier uses of the word were used as vole-mouse, and eventually became simply voles. People often refer to voles as meadow mice, or “field mice”.

Voles are of pest significance in turf and landscaped areas for two reasons:

  1. They tunnel and burrow in turf areas
  2. They gnaw on the trunks and roots of various trees and ornamental plants
In general, voles are compact rodents with stocky bodies, short legs, and short tails. Their eyes are small and their ears partially hidden. They usually are black, brown or gray, though many color variations exist. The adult vole ranges from 3.5 to 5 inches in length and weighs 1 to 2.5 ounces.

In general, voles are compact rodents with stocky bodies, short legs, and short tails. Their eyes are small and their ears partially hidden. They usually are black, brown or gray, though many color variations exist. The adult vole ranges from 3.5 to 5 inches in length and weighs 1 to 2.5 ounces.

Voles are herbivores. The stems and leaves of grasses comprise the majority of their diet, but they will also consume other green vegetation and fruits. Voles do not hibernate and are active throughout the year. During severe winters and snow cover, when green vegetation is scarce, voles often burrow around the roots of trees, which may cause damage to trees and shrubs. Voles are active during dawn and dusk, but may be seen active during the day and night as well.

Vole runways in turf are formed by a combination of the vole eating the grass blades, and the constant traveling over the runway. Voles also spread excavated dirt from the burrow system in the runway, resulting in a dirt-bare path in some areas.

One of the major keys to managing voles is to realize that, in many cases, voles are associated with dense cover. Inspections should begin along building exteriors. First inspect the immediate landscaping outside of the building looking for runways leading from any dense areas cutting through turf. Landscape plantings with low-lying plants such as arborvitae, creeping yews, junipers, and similar species are good candidates for vole activity.

By eliminating weeds and dense ground cover around lawns the capacity of these areas to support voles is reduced. Lawn and turf should be mowed regularly.

The meadow vole constructs well-defined, visible surface runways through turf areas, measuring about 1.5-2 in./4-5cm. in width. It is the sight of these paths that cause concern in March and April.

Another alternative is trapping. Using mouse traps with peanut butter bait placed in the vole runs may take care of a small infestation, however, the Iowa State Extension Office can provide alternative methods or referrals for professional rodent control companies.

For more information about Voles, please read this article from Purdue.

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