Learn to tell these critters apart, and handle them safely, with advice from experts.
Voles versus moles: It sounds like the premise of a bad animated kids' film, but alas, it’s not! Voles and moles are exclusively grown-up problems, and both creatures are kind of a nuisance. Despite their diminutive statures, they make their presence well-known by wreaking havoc on gardens and lawns. Sometimes it can be a challenge though to determine which animal is responsible for the damage—and this matters, because it’ll help inform how you eliminate the problem! Here, we’ll go over how to tell what’s invaded your yard and how to get rid of them safely.
According to Roger Dickens, Terminix’s technical services manager of bird and wildlife control, one of the biggest differences is literally how big they are: Moles are larger than voles.
“Moles are approximately the same length as the width of someone’s hand; voles are smaller and similar-sized as mice,” he says. Makes sense—voles are in the rodent family, while moles aren’t! They’re actually in the shrew family.
Additionally, moles have a longer snout compared to voles, which have a snout that is short and stubbed, similar to a hamster. Dickens says the color can vary as well—moles tend to have darker gray fur, whereas voles tend to be shades of brown.
Keep in mind though that since moles are fairly subterranean, you’ll rarely see them, Dickens notes. (You might catch a glimpse of a vole though—they can be seen running from their hiding spots when those spots are exposed.)
Dietary and Behavioral Differences
Another big difference between the two animals is their diet. Moles are insectivorous, meaning they eat insects like earthworms, slugs, and other invertebrates in the ground. They find their prey by digging tunnels underground. So if you see tunnels in your yard, you’ve got a mole! (Or a few.)
Dickens confirms that voles are rodents and eat vegetation and seeds. They will also eat the roots of some landscape plants. Instead of tunnels, “they create trails or ‘runs’ across the ground,” Dickens says. They are most noticeable after the spring snow melts or when an object is lifted off the ground and the runs become visible.
According to Dickens, there are several mole species native to the U.S., but most are generally located east of the Rocky Mountains.
Voles, on the other hand, can be found throughout the continental U.S. They are typically found in grasslands, fields, and meadows.
Moles reproduce one time per year with a litter size of three to five young. Generally, they are born in March or April.
Dickens surprised us with this tidbit: Voles are one of the fastest reproducing animals in North America. They can reproduce any time of the year and often have up to 10 litters per year, with three to six young per litter!
Potential Damage Caused by Moles and Voles
Moles can cause damage to the lawn with their burrowing activities as they search for food or mates. People will often notice a raised section of turf that when stepped on, flattens out. Dickens also points out that people will sometimes notice a mound of freshly-excavated soil where moles have been active.
Vole damage is generally caused after they’ve fed on the roots of landscaping plants. People will begin to notice the plants turning brown or even tipping over from voles eating the roots.
Effective Removal Methods
According to Dickens, moles can be trapped with a specialized contraption. You can also use a mole-labeled pesticide, which tends to be very effective, but for this option, you should contact a pest control professional.
Voles can also be trapped by placing mouse traps perpendicular in the “run” or trail. Capsaicin-based repellents are also effective to keep voles out of your landscaping beds.
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