Excavation Experts: Are Moles or Voles Ruining your Lawn? (Part 1)

By Marcia Anderson

It’s Summertime! Time to get outside and enjoy the great outdoors.

Imagine you are strolling across your lawn on a beautiful day assessing your maintenance routines, when you notice something amiss. It appears as if someone – something! – has created a maze of tunnels under your once-beautiful turf. Voles and moles are the most common culprits. But which is which and how do you tell the difference?

Moles are not the only animal pests responsible for tunneling lawn and garden areas. In reality, it’s really voles causing much of the damage chalked up to moles. Other than names that rhyme, voles and moles are entirely different pests with little in common. Once you understand their differences, it becomes rather easy to tell them apart and to develop a control strategy. The biggest differences between moles and voles is their diet and the damage they cause.

Voles are also known as the meadow or field mouse. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark (www.ipm.ucdavis.edu)

Voles are also known as the meadow or field mouse. Photo by Jack Kelly Clark (www.ipm.ucdavis.edu)

Voles

Voles are rodents, as are mice, rats, gophers and squirrels. They look much like mice, only with shorter tails. Voles, of which there are 23 species, usually do not invade homes and should not be confused with the common house mouse. Voles are plant-eaters, feeding on the stems and blades of grass, and the roots, seeds and bulbs of flowering and garden crops. If that is not enough, in winter when other foods are scarce, they’ll even chew the bark off trees and shrubs.

When voles make tunnels while searching for roots to eat, they do not create raised ridges. Voles create golf-ball-sized entry holes into their tunnels along walls and in mulched beds. Their above ground grassy runways connect to multiple, clustered burrow openings. Their surface tunnels are most noticeable in early spring, just after the snow melts.

Moles

Moles are built for tunneling with paddle-like paws. Photo: Stanislaw Szyalo (a-z-animals.com)

Moles are built for tunneling with paddle-like paws. Photo: Stanislaw Szyalo
(a-z-animals.com)

Unlike voles, moles are not rodents, and they don’t eat plants. Their primary diet is earthworms with a few insects – beetle larvae and adults, ants, wasps, and flies tossed in as appetizers. According to Ohio State University, a five-ounce mole will consume 45-50 pounds of worms and insects each year.

Landscape demolition from moles comes in the form of tunnels, runways and raised burrows in your lawn, ground cover, and shrub areas while on their never-ending search for food. Moles, are built for tunneling, with paddle-like paws that make quick work of moving even the most dense clay soils. Moles can dig surface tunnels at a rate of 18 feet/hour.  The word “mole” is from the Middle English molle which is derived from mold-warpe, meaning “earth-thrower.”

Moles prefer well-drained, loose, sandy soil, and they avoid heavy clay, gravelly soils, and very dry or very wet soils. Because moles prefer moist soil, human environs such as manicured suburban lawns, parks and golf courses often provide beneficial habitat due to higher quality soils and adequate moisture.

Moles are constantly tunneling in search of meals, pushing up mini mountain ranges all over lawns, and creating volcanoes of soil in random spots. Moles produce two types of elaborate tunnels. The tunnels just beneath the surface, are feeding tunnels and appear as raised ridges running across your lawn. The second type of runway runs deeper and enables the moles to unite the feeding tunnels in a network. As the weather cools, moles will retreat into their deeper tunnels, often up to five feet beneath the surface. It is the soil excavated from the deep tunnels that resemble little volcanoes.

Management

Pest identification is a fundamental step in an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) plan. IPM is a smart, sensible and sustainable approach to controlling pests. IPM is smart because it addresses the root causes of pest problems. It is sensible because it provides a healthier environment, and it is a sustainable approach that provides effective, long-term pest control. Specific knowledge about your pest will give you key clues for their management.

Preventing pest problems through foresight, is the first rule of IPM. Taking preventive steps to preclude a pest problem is preferable to waiting for pests to arrive, then having to eradicate them. To deter these landscape pests, be prepared to alter their environment.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Excavation Experts to learn how to prevent and control moles and voles. In the meantime visit the University of Nebraska website for more information on moles and voles.

About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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