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DALY: Moles and voles are troubling home landscapes

Timothy Daly

Timothy Daly

Many homeowners are observing the appearance of tunnels in the soil and small holes in their lawns. Additionally, some of the branches and trunks of their landscape plants are being damaged. These problems are frequently caused by the actions of small animals called moles and voles.

What exactly are these animals and how are they different? Moles feed on insects. They are flattened, pig-nosed, gray animals five to six inches long. Moles have large incisor and canine teeth. Their diet consists of earthworms, white grubs, ants, and other subterranean insects. Moles, rarely observed above ground, do not feed on plants. They possess powerful front feet used to tunnel below ground. A large network of raised tunnels dug by a few moles can ruin a lawn’s appearance

Voles are rodents resembling a house mouse, but they have shorter tails and smaller ears. They are brown to gray in color, four to six inches long with mouse-like chewing teeth but no canine teeth. Voles feed on plant roots, bulbs and other parts of vegetation. They damage plant material by chewing the roots of young trees and shrubs, and can strip the bark at ground level. Voles travel above ground. Their paths are called runways and can be identified as worn paths in the grass and ground litter.

Moles and voles cause different types of damage. The tunneling activity of moles usually causes cosmetic damage although they can harm roots of lawn grasses. They feed on beetle grubs and earthworms, and they do not consume grass or any other plant material. They plow the soil by tunneling just under the surface in search of food. Mole tunnels can make turf look “cracked” in closely mowed turf where their tunnels can become unsightly, especially with the volcano-shaped mound built around their exit hole.

Voles feeding on ornamental plants will girdle the trunks and damage the roots by chewing. Often, you will not suspect the damage until the plants just fall over. Voles are active both day and night.

Moles can be difficult to control. Since the moles are digging for grubs, their main food source, applying insecticides labeled for controlling grubs can reduce their activity. Another control method is the use of lethal harpoon traps placed over their tunnels. The traps are set off by mole movements. Step on their runs in several places, marking the spots. The moles will repair the tunnels they use. Go back to these areas and observe the repairs. Do this several times. Then place the traps on top of these runs. If the traps do not work after two days, move them to another location. Also, there are some baits that have limited effectiveness against moles such as Talpirid, which is poison bait that mimics earthworms. It can be purchased at garden centers and hardware stores. Please observe all label directions and safety precautions when using pesticides.

You can control voles by reducing the amount of groundcover by mowing. This is the best way to deter voles from inhabiting an area since they prefer plenty of groundcover to protect them from predatory birds and mammals. Traps may also be used. Snare traps and snap traps (traditional mouse traps) should be put in runways with apple slices as bait. A good method is baiting the traps with a small amount of peanut butter for a few nights without setting the traps. When the traps are finally set there is an element of “surprise”.

Another method of controlling vole damage is to create a “fence” out of hardware mesh cloth and wrap it around the base of the woody plants to deter them from chewing on the bark. Baits or poisons are not available for homeowners to use in controlling voles.

Though these pests can be troublesome, knowing what to look for and the necessary control measures will help keep moles and voles from damaging your landscape.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu