Moles or Voles…Who’s to Blame?

Barbara H. Smith,
HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent,
Clemson Extension, Clemson University

HTG 0317

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Do you know the difference between a mole and a vole? It’s important to know before you start blaming one of them for damage to your landscape. One way to distinguish the difference is by the diet of each critter. Moles “M” are meat eaters, and their diet consists of insects, grubs, and earthworms. Voles “V”, on the other hand, are vegetarians and dine on the roots and stems of plants.

A mole is 4-7 inches in length with paddle-shaped feet and prominent digging claws. It has an elongated head and snout, small eyes, and no external ears. The short black-to-brownish-gray fur has no grain, which allows the mole to move easily forward and backwards in the tunnels.

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.
Credit: Mississippi State University Extension Service

It digs characteristic volcano-shaped hills in your lawn. The tunnels are dug at a rate of 18 feet per hour and can add 150 feet of new tunnels in your lawn each day. These expert diggers will consume up to 60 to 100% of their body weight in insects, grubs, and earthworms each day. This equates to a 5-ounce mole eating 50 pounds of its prey in a year!

Moles will dig tunnels in shrub beds and lawns.
Moles will dig tunnels in shrub beds and lawns.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017, HGIC, Clemson Extension.

Nothing is more frustrating to a homeowner with a beautiful lawn than to see molehills all over the yard. Moles are most active in the early morning and late evening on cloudy days during the spring and fall. There are many methods advertised for removing moles, such as mothballs, chewing gum, and vibration and ultrasonic devices that are touted to deter these little diggers. Often, however, these methods are not very effective. Poisoned gummy worms or pellets with an active ingredient of bromethalin may be inserted in an active tunnel, but they may pose a hazard to humans and pets and may possibly enter the wildlife food chain. When using any type of poison or chemical, you should carefully read and follow the label instructions.

Trapping is one of the most successful ways to get rid of moles. There are a number of different types of mole traps, such as harpoon, impaling, choker, pitfall, or scissor-jawed available on the market. Snap traps baited with peanut butter may be placed in an active tunnel and are most effective in the fall and winter months. Moles are solitary animals, so if you are able to rid your lawn of one or two moles, it will make a big difference.

Managing the food supply is another way to control mole populations. Using a grub treatment for your lawn is common. Systemic grub treatments that contain imidacloprid as an active ingredient can be applied to the lawn area in May. These are available in ready-to-spray hose-end sprayers or granular formulations. Granular products are easier to apply, but be sure to irrigate with at least ½ inch of water immediately after application. Because these products are systemic within the turfgrass, they will last the entire growing season. Granular grub killers that contain trichloforfon or carbaryl are contact insecticides that should be spread over the lawn in early July and watered in well. At this time, the grubs are small and close to the surface, so the contact insecticide will be very effective in eradicating the young grubs. This will last for about two weeks. Application in the late summer or fall is not as effective as the older grubs will go deeper in the soil and are harder to kill. Neither of these methods are completely successful, as the moles will switch to earthworms and other insects for their dinner. As a temporary solution to a mole infestation, consider an application of castor oil to the lawn. It is available as a spray or in a granular form and will repel moles for about two weeks. So you see, there are limited options for mole control.

Voles look like field mice with short tails, compact heavy bodies, small eyes, and partially hidden ears. Voles are 5-8 inches long and have prominent orange teeth for gnawing your prized plant roots and stems.

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

These dastardly opportunists will use previously established mole tunnels with characteristic golf ball sized exit holes. One day your hostas will be beautiful, and a few days later, the plants will have fallen over with the roots gnawed off. There may be multiple residents in a vole colony, so habitat modification is important in controlling them.

Voles have golf ball sized exit holes in their tunnels.
Voles have golf ball sized exit holes in their tunnels.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017, HGIC, Clemson Extension

These sneaky pests do not like to feed in the open, so removing weeds, heavy mulch, or dense vegetation will aid in removing their food source along with protection from predators. Keep grass mowed and dethatched regularly, and mulch cleared from around tree bases. In order to protect an area from a vole infestation, a wire fence with a mesh of ¼ inch or smaller will help exclude them. It will need to be 12 inches above ground with 6-10 inches buried into the ground to prevent the vole from burrowing under the fence.

Snap traps baited with apples or peanut butter and oatmeal are an excellent way to catch voles. Set the traps along runways or near the exit holes, making sure that you place the trap at a right angle with the trigger end toward the runway. Place a bucket over the trap as voles prefer to take the bait under cover. This will also protect children, pets, or other animals from coming in contact with the trap. Fall and late winter are the best times to trap voles. There are a number of available poison baits, some in the form of poison peanuts, but these also pose a hazard to humans, pets, and other wildlife. Again, read and follow the label instructions carefully.

As both of these pests carry infectious diseases and parasites, it is important to wear disposable gloves when handling the dead animals. Either bury them or place them in plastic bags in the trash. If you do use a live trap, remember that the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources does not allow relocation of trapped animals to another location due to animal and human disease exposure, so you will have to kill or drown the captured animals.

A castor oil treatment to the lawn will also repel voles for about two weeks. Therefore, if you still are not sure which pest is in the lawn, this treatment should repel either critter.

Another solution for helping rid your landscape of moles and voles is to adopt a cat. This natural hunter will show its love for you by placing dead moles or voles at your doorstep. The disadvantage to this is that your furry pet will also kill songbirds if you have bird feeders in your yard.

Mole Bait Products
Sweeney’s Kill Moles Poison Moleworms
Talprid Mole Bait
Motomco Tom Cat Mole Killer
Victor Moleworms Kills Moles

Castor Oil Products
Product NameFormulation
1 RTS = Ready to spray hose-end bottle
Bonide MoleMax Mole & Vole Repellent (RTSand granular)
Dr. T’s Nature Products Whole Control Mole Repellent (RTSand granular)
I Must Garden Brand Mole & Vole Repellent (RTSand granular)
Liquid Fence Mole Repellent (RTS1)
Messina Mole & Vole Stopper (RTSand granular)
Monterey All Natural Mole Repellent (RTS1)
Motomco Tom Cat Mole & Gopher Repellent (RTSand granular)
Natura Repellex Mole & Gopher Repellent (RTSand granular)
Ortho Mole B Gone (RTSand granular)
Sweeney’s Mole & Gopher Repellent (RTSand granular)

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This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.