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Moles and Voles

By Bailey Walten 1993 Newsletter

We frequently get requests to “control some varmint digging up the lawn and beds.” Upon examination it usually turns out to be moles or voles causing the problem. The names are similar but they look and act quite differently.

The North American Eastern Mole, “Scalopus aquaticus,” is about six inches long with a one inch tail. Ideally suited for burrowing with pointed snout and powerful paddle-like forelimbs, it has erect, grayish, velvety-smooth fur that can lie flat in both directions enabling it to back up easily in tight burrows. I recently captured a mole and tested this fossorial ability first-hand. When released on our lawn, it tunneled out of sight within seconds leaving the characteristic upheaved ridge while digging laterally just under the surface. I quickly dug him out and tramped down the tunnel to prevent damage.

Moles make bi-level burrows. The upper level consists of feeding tunnels where they mainly consume earthworms, grubs, insects, and other animals. Though primarily carnivorous, they may occasionally eat a bulb or root. Having voracious appetites, a lawn can be disfigured in no time by their constant quest for more food (½ of their weight daily), as starvation can occur in 12 hours without nourishment. The lower level burrow consists of living quarters and food storage caches.

Lawns are damaged most when softened by precipitation (especially spring and fall) as moles disdain dry, hard-packed soil where digging is more difficult. Our mole treatments have proven very successful since we started them seven years ago. We use a soil fumigant which is placed as tablets into the tunnels. Upon contact with soil moisture the Phostoxin releases phosphine gas which is lethal to moles and other burrowing rodents. Several treatments may be necessary to eliminate all the moles on your property; especially when bordered by their natural woodland or meadowland habitats. Treating lawns to control grubs can also help by reducing their food supply.

Voles, on the other hand, resemble mice but have shorter limbs and tails, smaller eyes and ears, blunter snouts and stouter builds. With tails half the length of their three and a half to five inch bodies, these vegetarian rodents feed on grasses, leaves, stems, clover, plantain, bark, bulbs, roots, tubers, and occasionally insects. Active day and night, they consume an amount equivalent to their body weight each day. Like moles, they nest and store food in underground burrows.

The meadow vole (or short-tailed field mouse) can cause many problems in the landscape. Not only do they eat turf grasses but they often carve runways through the lawn in the process; especially under snow cover. Of more concern is the damage voles cause to trees and shrubs by eating bark and roots. We have observed serious bark injury to spreading junipers caused by voles which often weakens or kills the plants. They will also eat many types of bulbs and plants in flower gardens. Though many animals eat voles, in urban and suburban landscapes where predators are fewer, additional help may be needed to limit their destructive activity. Scientific Plant Service offers a service where we can control them with poison baits if necessary.

If you think you have moles, voles or both, please call us to inspect your property. Ridding your landscape of these pests is cheaper than repairing the damage they can cause.

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