Pests of the Month: Moles and Voles
Wild animals are part of what makes nature so magical, and watching them can be highly enjoyable. While it’s important to coexist with animals in relative peace, they can cause countless problems when they take up residence in our homes or gardens. In this series, our Wildlife Management Specialist, Shawn Weeks, will educate us about some common household pests, and share some strategies for keeping them under control without dangerous chemicals or poisons.
This month, moles and voles, Mother Nature’s pint-sized lawn wrecking crew.
Habitat and History
Moles: Moles can be found throughout North America, although primarily in the eastern and northwestern United States. There are seven species of moles, although the Star Nosed and the Eastern are the most prevalent. Moles are gray or brown mammals and are actually NOT rodents. They are their own family of mammal. They have a long, naked snout, no external ears, large forelegs shaped like paddles and their eyes are hidden beneath fur.
Moles spend almost their entire lives underground, rarely coming to the surface. They prefer moist, loose soil. Moles are extremely territorial and will not allow other adults in their territory other than for mating.
Voles: Voles are found throughout North America. There are many different species of voles, but only about half a dozen of them cause significant problems for humans. Voles are a species of rodent, and are commonly mistaken for field mice or deer mice.
All voles are mouse-sized, measuring in at six to seven inches long and weighing approximately four to five ounces. Their eyes, ears, and tails are relatively small compared to mice. Some voles cause major surface damage, while others cause damage beneath the surface. Voles can be found in a large variety of habitats, and their ranges can overlap.
Moles: The mole’s diet consists almost exclusively of earthworms and grubs. There is only one mole, which occurs in the far northwestern United States, that actually eats root crops and tubers.
Voles: Voles are herbivores, feeding primarily on grasses, flowers, fruits, vegetables, bulbs, and roots. Some voles will also gnaw and feed on the bark of trees in winter, under the protection and cover of snow.
Moles: Breeding for moles occurs in the late winter into early spring. There are generally four to seven young per litter, and they become active at about four weeks of age.
Voles: Like many other small rodents, voles are active breeders, with some species having four to five litters a year and two to five young per litter. In some warmer climates, they can breed year round. At around three weeks of birth, voles can begin breeding. Vole populations are cyclical, with a cycle of approximately three to six years.
Problems, Solutions and Health Concerns
Moles: Moles do not pose any health-related concerns to humans. The thing that makes moles a pest is that they can devastate a lawn with mounds. These mounds can be either high and round or in the form of “running” tunnels.
There are several ways to rid your property of moles. You can purchase traps from your local hardware store, which can be placed right in the tunnels. You will need to remove the carcasses as they are trapped.
Another easy way to rid your property of moles is to use a lawn roller. Lawn rollers are steel wheels that are generally filled with water and pulled behind your riding mower. Once filled, they are very heavy and will crush the mounds and tunnels. This is a very effective way of eliminating moles. You will, however, have to do it as a regular maintenance routine.
Some people chemically treat their lawns for grubs. This eliminates the moles’ food supply, sending them on their way. Be warned, however, that there are health concerns associated with chemically treated lawns. Chemicals can leach into a well, garden plants, and even children, pets, or livestock that come into contact with it. If it’s green and can be mowed, it’s nice. Nobody needs “perfect grass.”
Voles: All species of voles burrow, although most species are not subterranean. Some species of voles actually create runways by eating and munching vegetation in paths, almost like a trail system. They seem to stay in their nests most of the day, coming out to feed day and night at short intervals.
You can reduce the pressure from voles in a number of ways. First, you can keep your lawn mowed short. This will give the rodents less cover. You should also keep vegetation and brush away from flowerbeds, veggie gardens, and ornamental plants. Voles build their nests in these types of areas for cover.
Most damage from voles is to flowerbeds and gardens. The best way to keep your plants safe is to erect a barrier between your plants and the voles. Dig a trench around the area you want protected. The trench should be at least eighteen inches deep. This will also help deter other mammals such as woodchucks, ground squirrels, etc., too. Once the trench is complete, install 1/4” hardware cloth all the way to the bottom of the trench. Also note that the end of the hardware cloth at the bottom of the trench should be bent at a 90 degree angle, out about four inches. Now you can fill the trench back in. This helps to deter them from thinking they can dig around the hardware cloth.
Voles do not pose any infectious disease threat to humans.