What You Need to Know About Moles And Voles

Not sure if you have moles or voles? Learn how to tell these critters apart—and what to do about them.

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177362415

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo by: iStockphoto.com/alainolympus

iStockphoto.com/alainolympus

Because of their small size, moles and voles are often hanging out in your yard but you don’t know it—until they start wreaking havoc with their tunnels, hills and trails. In short order, these tiny critters can destroy a beautiful, eye-catching lawn. Learn how to tell if you have these pests and what you can do to get rid of them.

Moles

Moles (shown above) are underground creatures, designed from their snout to their tail for life in the soil. They have tiny eyes and ears hidden in their thick fur. Large front paddle-like feet feature big claws perfect for digging their way through your lawn in search of earthworms, beetle grubs and cicada larvae. Moles are carnivores, eating only living food. The damage they do to your lawn is secondary to their endless search for wriggling bugs they can munch.

Signs of Moles

Look for two common signs to know you’re dealing with moles: tell-tale mole hills (volcano-like mounds of soil at tunnel entrances) and raised soil ridges (about 1 inch high by 4 inches wide). Moles also create soft areas in your lawn that collapse when you walk on them.

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461252759

Mole mound in the sports stadium

Photo by: iStockphoto.com/man_kukuku

iStockphoto.com/man_kukuku

Voles

The word vole actually refers to several different kinds of critters, which are often called field mice or meadow mice, although they’re not a type of mouse. A vole is a small rodent (4 to 6 inches) that resembles a mouse, but with smaller ears and a shorter tail. Voles live either above or underground, depending on the type. They dig their own tunnels and also don’t hesitate to co-opt tunnels created by moles or chipmunks. Entrances to their burrows are round holes about 1.5 inches across. Most voles work by night and have a reputation for making lots of babies—one female vole can have up to 100 babies per year.

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528582901

Mouse vole, close-up

Photo by: iStockphoto.com/IgorSokolov

iStockphoto.com/IgorSokolov

Unlike moles, voles feast on plants, eating any part they can reach. Voles have large front teeth that make quick work of fleshy roots on plants like hosta and daylily. They also gnaw shrub and tree bark at soil level and easily munch their way through lawn grass.

Signs of Voles

Usually you know voles are active when you spot trails in the lawn as snow melts in early spring. During winter, voles run freely along the ground beneath the snow in well-worn paths about 1 to 2 inches across. They eat the grass out of paths to create obstacle-free runways. When snow melts, the trails are easily visible. After snow disappears, voles scurry to planting beds and overgrown areas where they can hide from predators.

Vole Trails In Spring Lawn

Vole Trails In Spring Lawn

After snow melts, it’s easy to discover if voles spent the winter eating your lawn because you’ll see trails in the grass. The trails are runways or paths that voles use to move about beneath the snow. They eat the grass in the runway or use it to make nests.

Photo by: Julie Martens Forney

Julie Martens Forney

You'll often spot vole runways in mulch, with tunnels that are just barely below the surface. Parts of the runway might resemble an open path, while other parts are more tunnel-like.

How to Deal with Moles and Voles

  • Repel. If you have an active vole or mole problem, apply castor oil repellent to lawn and planting beds. Look for a product that says it’s effective against moles and voles. It works by making the soil smell bad to their noses. (You won’t notice a thing.) Apply the repellent to planting beds with vole issues just prior to winter to keep the critters at bay once snow falls.
  • Get Tidy. Moles and voles like to stay hidden whenever possible. The only reason voles venture into the lawn in winter is because they’re hidden by snow. Once snow melts, they retreat to planting beds and weedy areas of your yard—places with plenty of cover. Eliminate hiding places by mowing grass regularly, keeping mulch on the thin side and never piled against plant stems and removing wood or debris piles. Working regularly in planting beds also helps keep voles feeling exposed and uncertain.
  • Protect Plants. If voles are destroying prize perennials, try tucking plants in cages of quarter-inch hardware cloth. This size keeps voles out and protects plant roots from hungry critters. The cloth must enclose the roots and stick several inches out of soil to keep voles from tunneling to roots from topside.
  • Welcome Predators. Owls and hawks like to eat moles and especially voles. Give raptors a place to hang out in your yard by erecting a perch: a post that’s 10 to 15 feet high with a 1- to 2-inch-diameter perch. Other good predators include cats, foxes and snakes.
  • Use Traps. Several different trap designs work efficiently to reduce mole numbers. For voles, use a small mouse trap placed across runways and/or near burrow holes. A small piece of apple stuck in peanut butter is good bait for voles.
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