A mole tunnels underground and causes damage to your lawn. A vole burrows below the surface and can also mess up your yard. So what is the difference between a mole and a vole? And why is it important to know the difference? To get rid of voles or moles, you need to know which one you're dealing with to best control the problem.
Differences and Characteristics
Voles (Cricetidae) and moles (Talpidae) look different, eat different diets, and have little else in common other than their rhyming names. So, how do you know if it's a vole or a mole? Both are furry little creatures that both burrow underground and can damage landscaping. Here are some of their key characteristics:
- Closely resembles a 5- to 8-inch field mouse; often called a "meadow mouse"; vegetarian
- Body type: Short tail, compact body, small eyes
- Spends most of its life above ground, although it burrows and makes underground nests
- Has long, prominent orange teeth for eating vegetation
- 4 to 7 inches long; insectivore
- Body type: Elongated head and snout with no visible eyes or ears (hidden under fur); cylindrical body with short, stocky limbs; stubby tail
- Spends almost all of its time underground, thus requiring extra eye and ear protection
- Large paddle-like forefeet with long claws for extensive tunnel digging and insect hunting
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How Voles and Moles Damage Lawns
Moles are carnivores. They are not rodents like voles. A mole will eat worms, grubs, and adult insects. Voles eat a vegetarian diet and often attack garden plants. So if a pest takes bites out of your plants, you can rule out moles. Signs of a vole in your yard are similar to a field mouse—eaten vegetation, runways, and small hideout holes by the base of a tree.
Vole vs. Mole: Tunnels and Runways
Although they don't eat plants, mole tunnels cause damage by disturbing the root systems of plants growing above them, thereby wreaking havoc on the landscape. Moles tunnels go deep, sometimes up to 10 inches deep, and are part of an intricate underground network. Voles do not tunnel like moles. While voles occasionally tunnel underground, searching for food, they more commonly create runways on the surface that make for an unsightly lawn.
Vole vs. Mole: Holes and Mounds
Moles form big volcano-looking molehill mounds. Voles don't make mounds, but they make underground burrows in the form of a small hole, usually at the base of a tree. They commonly damage trees and shrubs by burrowing into their root systems, causing young specimens to experience die-back or to begin to lean.
Voles gnaw at the base of a tree or shrub, especially in winter. To prevent this type of vole damage, install metal guards around the base of vegetation. A vole may also damage flower bulbs and potatoes in the garden. But, mainly, the vole will eat the stems and blades of lawn grass.
Vole vs. Mole: Traps
Traps are the preferred way to get rid of voles and moles since using pesticides or rodenticides can potentially affect other animals in the delicate ecosystem. Knowing the difference between a mole and a vole is essential because if you want to catch the critter you have, you need to know what will attract them to your trap. For example, a vole may be attracted to peanut butter as bait, while a mole will not care for it. Most mole traps don't need bait; they only require positioning at the entrance of an active molehill.
Voles and Moles vs. Mice, Gophers, and Shrews
Three other small furry mammals sometimes get confused with moles and voles—mice, gophers, and shrews.
Mice (Muridae) average about 2 to 4 inches long with rounded ears that are large relative to their head size. A mouse has a long, skinny, hairy tail and a pointed or triangular snout. In contrast, voles look like stockier, thicker cousins of field mice with shorter tails and rounder snouts. Mice are omnivores, preferring to eat seeds, grains, and fruits. They also eat insects and, under extreme circumstances, will cannibalize to survive.
Mice are most active at night. They are attracted to corn, carrots, potatoes, and squash. They don't eat a lot at once, so damage to vegetables will not be very noticeable, although you might see tiny gnaw marks. They leave behind small grassy nests, ground tunnels, and small, brown droppings.
Gophers (Geomyidae) are larger than voles and moles, typically between 4 to 12 inches in length. They look like mice but have much larger teeth, and they're much bigger. Compared to moles and voles, gophers are burrowing and tunneling animals that cause more garden damage. They are also called pocket gophers for their large cheek pouches that hold food and materials for creating nests.
Like moles, they leave behind unsightly, horseshoe-shaped mounds on the lawn. They eat underground plant parts like tubers and roots and above-ground plant parts like leaves and flowers.
There are several kinds of shrews (Soricidae). Most average between 3 and 6 inches in length. The northern short-tailed shrew (Blarina brevicauda) looks like a combination of a mole mixed with a mouse. It is more closely related to a mole (it is also not a rodent). Unlike a mole, you can see its eyes and ears, which are very tiny. Some shrew species rely on echolocation to navigate.
Like moles, they have long snouts and sharp, pointed teeth and eat insects, not plants. They also construct elaborate runways and underground tunnels and will wreak havoc on a yard.