Moles and voles: Which is which?

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By Susan Brown, County Extension

Mole problems seem to be on the rise. Tunnels and more tunnels everywhere you turn, what can be done? How can we control these critters? First, we must be sure it is indeed a mole and not a vole.

Moles have a hairless, pointed snout that extends out one-half inch in front of their mouth, tiny eyes and no external ears. Their large paddle-like forefeet and sharp claws enable the mole to swim through the soil. They are active all year long and their diet consists of insects, grubs and worms. They eat 70-100 percent of their body weight each day.
Moles must cover a larger amount of area than most animals that live underground. They make their home burrows in high, dry spots, but prefer soil that is shaded, cool, moist and populated by worms and grubs.
Mole activity in lawns or fields usually shows up as ridges of up-heaved soil created where the runways were constructed as the animals move about to feed. They can tunnel up to 15 feet per hour. These tunnels are seldom re-used by the mole. Moles are solitary creatures, so you probably only have one or two.
All moles are classified as wild, non-game animals under North Carolina law. This means you cannot kill a mole without requesting and receiving a permit from N.C. Wildlife Resource Commission.
Moles can be difficult to eradicate. One way to help control moles is to reduce their food source. Other effective methods are packing the soil or reducing the soil moisture that may reduce the habitat’s attractiveness and trapping, which are the most successful and practical methods of removal.

There are two kinds of voles in N.C.—the pine vole and the meadow vole. Voles are small rodents with stocky bodies, short legs and short tails. They have small eyes and partially hidden ears. Found in colors of brown or gray though many color variations exist.
Voles eat a variety of plants. They cause damage by eating flower bulbs, girdling the stems of woody plants, and gnawing on the roots. Vole girdling can be recognized by the non-uniform gnaw marks that occur at various angles in irregular patterns.
Like the mole, voles are active day and night, year-round. They do not hibernate. They prefer a wide variety of habitats with heavy ground cover of grasses, grass like plants, or litter.
One simple way to tell if you have voles is to look for small golf ball-size holes around the tunnels.
Voles are considered a pest in the garden and can be trapped. At this time, there are no pesticides available for use on voles in North Carolina. The most common control is the snap-type mousetraps. Cultural methods, such as eliminating weeds, groundcover and litter around crops and lawns will also deter the vole.
If moles and voles are controlled properly, they can be kept in balance with the surrounding environment. Moles play an important role in the management of soil and grubs that destroy lawns. Tunneling through the soil and the shifting of soil particles permits better aeration of the soil and subsoil.
Voles provide a valuable food source for predators, such as weasels, hawks and snakes.

Susan Brown is a horticulture agent with the Brunswick County Extension Service. Call 253-2610 or e-mail susan_brown@ncsu.edu.