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Goodbye Moles & Voles!

What can we do about moles and voles in the home lawn and landscape? First, we need to know how to tell the difference between the two, in other words “know thy enemy!” For more information on how to tell the difference between moles and voles, please see HGIC 2366, How to Tell the Difference between Moles & Voles.

Moles and voles are both small mammals with soft gray fur. The mole has no visible eyes or ears, while the vole has beady little eyes like a mouse and small ears and short tail. We don’t usually see either one (unless our dog or cat is a good hunter), but we commonly see the damage they cause.

A mole is 4-7 inches in length with paddle-shaped feet and prominent digging claws.

A mole is 4-7 inches in length with paddle-shaped feet and prominent digging claws. Photo courtesy of Mississippi State University Extension Service.

The mole is carnivorous, whereas the vole is a vegetarian. The mole lives and hunts for food under the soil, digging tunnels through the lawn in search of a nice meal of grubs, earthworms, or other invertebrates. Using its paddle-like feet and claws, a mole will dig tunnels that radiate out from its home, usually at the base of a tree trunk.

To get rid of moles, use a harpoon-style trap, which must be set a certain way over the mole run to be effective. This process is described in detail in the Prevention and Control of Wildlife Damage handbook at http://pcwd.info/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/1994_Moles.pdf

These traps are available from most mass merchandisers, garden centers and home improvement stores. If you have a severe problem, professional wildlife control operators can do the job for a fee. A list is available from the SC Department of Natural Resources at http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/nuisance.html

There are several bait products labeled for mole control listed in the HGIC fact sheet. Please follow all label directions carefully to avoid poisoning pets and other non-target animals. Castor oil is a good repellant for moles (see product list in fact sheet), but must be reapplied often to be effective.

The most common vole in our area is the pine vole, which is at home under the pine straw or other mulch (not under the soil) in your yard. Voles chew at the base of garden perennials, as well as some trees and shrubs. One of their favorites is the hosta or plantain-lily, a.k.a “vole lettuce.” Some folks grow their hostas in containers for protection from the munching voles.

Voles look like field mice with short tails.

Voles look like field mice with short tails.
Photo courtesy of John White.

To manage voles, modify their habitat by removing weeds, heavy mulch, or dense vegetation. Mulches, including pine straw, are beneficial but should only be about three to four inches thick. Snap traps, baited with apples or peanut butter and oatmeal, are an excellent way to catch voles, but must be covered with a box or tilted bucket because voles do not like to feed in the open.

More information on setting vole traps and using baits is in the HGIC fact sheet, with detailed additional information at http://pcwd.info/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/1994Voles.pdf

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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