How to Tell the Difference Between Moles & Voles

Prepared by Barbara H. Smith, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University, 11/17.

HGIC 2366

It is important to know the difference between mole and vole damage to the landscape. One way to distinguish the difference is by the diet of each animal. Moles “M” are meat eaters, and their diet consists of insects, grubs, and earthworms. Voles “V”, on the other hand, are vegetarians and eat the roots and stems of plants.

Description of a Mole

A mole is 4 to 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.

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

It digs characteristic volcano-shaped hills in the lawn. The tunnels are dug at a rate of 18 feet per hour and can add 150 feet of new tunnels in lawn each day. Moles are expert diggers that 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.

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

Mole Control

Nothing is more frustrating to a homeowner with a beautiful lawn to 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 advertised to deter them. Often, however, these methods are not very effective.

Poisons are usually the first method that a homeowner thinks of, but is not necessarily the best choice. 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. If poison baits are left in place, they have the potential of being washed into water sources. When using any type of poison or chemical, 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.

A harpoon style mole trap.
A harpoon style mole trap may be used in an active mole tunnel.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

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 ridding the landscape of one or two moles will make a big difference.

Snap traps baited with peanut butter.
Snap traps baited with peanut butter may be placed in an active tunnel.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

The most effective control for moles is to cut off the food supply. Using a grub treatment for a lawn is a common practice. 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 trichlorfon or carbaryl are contact insecticides that should be applied in early July and are spread over the lawn 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 other prey, such as earthworms and other insects.

As a more environmentally friendly but 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 and voles for about two weeks.

Description of a Vole

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

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

These opportunists will dig characteristic golf ball sized exit holes in previously established mole tunnels. One day a plant will be beautiful, and a few days later, it 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.

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

Vole Control

The most effective way to control voles is through habitat modification, as they do not like to feed in the open. Removing weeds, heavy mulch, or dense vegetation will aid in removing their food source along with protection from predators. Keep turfgrass mowed and dethatched regularly, and keep 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 the trap is placed with the trigger end toward the runway. Place a box or 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.

A vole trap setup under a cover.
Voles prefer to take bait under cover.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2017 HGIC, Clemson Extension

There are a number of available poison baits, but these pose a hazard to humans, pets, other wildlife, and may enter the water supply. Again, read and follow the label instructions carefully.

Health, Safety, & Nuisance Concerns

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 a live trap is used, 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; therefore, the captured animals will have to be killed or drowned.

Mole Poison Bait Products
Sweeney’s Kill Moles Poison Moleworms
Talprid Mole Bait
Tom Cat Mole Killer
Victor Moleworms Kills Moles
Vole Poison Bait Products
Kaput Rat & Mouse Bait
Rodex Whole Wheat Bait
Sweeney’s Poison Peanuts
Tomcat Rodenticide
Vole Control Bait Station System

A castor oil treatment to the lawn will also repel moles and voles for about two weeks. Therefore, if unsure which pest is in the lawn, this treatment should repel either animal.

Castor Oil Products
Examples of Brands and Products Forms of Products Available
Bonide MoleMax Mole & Vole Repellent RTS1 and granular
Dr. T’s Nature Products Whole Control Mole Repellent RTS1 and granular
I Must Garden Brand Mole & Vole Repellent RTS1 and granular
Liquid Fence Mole Repellant RTS1
Messina Mole & Vole Stopper RTS1 and granular
Monterey All Natural Mole Repellent RTS1 and granular
Natura Repellex Mole & Gopher Repellent RTS1 and granular
Ortho Mole B Gone RTS1 and granular
Sweeney’s Mole & Gopher Repellent RTS1 and granular
1RTS = Ready to spray hose-end bottle

Prepared by Barbara H. Smith, HGIC Horticulture Extension Agent, Clemson University, 11/17.

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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.