Is It a Mole or a Vole?
BY: Charles Mitchell
N.C. Cooperative Extension County Extension Director
During the past month, the Cooperative Extension Office has received many questions about moles and voles. How do you tell the difference? What do they eat? What can you do to control them? They have taken over my yard. These are the questions and comments that most people have. Well, lets take a look at what they are, the damage they cause, and how to control them.
Voles are small mammals, commonly called mice that live in field and shrub habitats. In shrub beds, voles can cause damage by eating flower bulbs, girdling the stems of woody plants, and gnawing roots. There are two kinds of voles in North Carolina, the pine vole and the meadow vole. The pine vole’s eyes and ears are not visible, the tail is short, fur is reddish brown, and lives and causes damage below the ground. The trunks of small trees or shrubs may be severed from the roots, making it possible to pull the top of the plant out of the soil. Upon close inspection of the plant, gnawing marks can be seen just under the soil line.
Meadow voles have eyes and ears that are visible, a tail that is longer than their hind legs, the fur is dark brown, and lives and causes damage above ground mainly in taller grasses and cover. Typically, meadow voles girdle trees and saplings at the ground line.
Currently, trapping and rodenticides are the only ways to control vole populations. It takes persistence as well as skill to be a successful trapper. Meadow voles can be all but eliminated in most cases by close mowing or removal of grass cover. Remember that all rodenticides are designed to kill mammals. Take all reasonable precautions to prevent exposure to humans, pets, and non-target mammals, birds, and fish. Non-lethal damage prevention options are to plant plants in gravel or place gravel in the ground around flower beds. The gravel is thought to discourage the voles because they do not like digging through gravel.
Moles are insectivores that live in the seclusion of underground burrows, coming to the surface only rarely. They have a hairless, pointed snout extending nearly ½ inch in front of the mouth opening. The small eyes and the opening of the ear canal are concealed in the fur: there are no external ears. The forefeet are very large and broad, with palms wider than they are long. Moles make their home burrows in high, dry spots, but they prefer to hunt in soil that is shaded, cool, moist, and populated by worms and grubs. Moles eat from 70% to 100% of their weight each day. The home range of a mole is large. Three to five moles per acre is considered a high population for most areas.
Moles are effective at removing insects and grubs from lawns and gardens, while aerating the soil. However, their burrowing habits disfigure lawns, destroy flower beds, tear up the roots of grasses, and create havoc in small garden spots. Control methods for moles are more difficult than voles. Moles are classified as wild, nongame animals under North Carolina game laws. No open hunting or trapping season are set up for these animals. A depredation permit request or questions about the laws and regulations can be answered by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. Non-lethal control can be accomplished by removing their food source. Insecticides applied properly to lawns and natural areas can aid in the control of moles. For small areas such as seedbeds, install a sheet metal or hardware cloth fence. The fence should be started at the ground surface and go to a depth of at least 12 inches and then bend outward an additional 10 inches at a 90-degree angle.
These two aggravating critters can cause much frustration in a home landscape, but by knowing the difference in the two you can make better control decisions. For more information about gardening, feel free to contact or visit your local Franklin County Cooperative Extension Office at 103 South Bickett Blvd., Louisburg, NC. You can reach us at 919-496-3344 or visit our website at www.franklin.ces.ncsu.edu to stay up-to-date on events and activities.