What Is a Vole?
A vole, in simple terms, is a rodent and a cousin to the mouse. This kind of mouse likes to burrow in the dirt and can leave tracks and tunnels all over your yard. Some of them like to live in the fields or prairies while others are happier near the water. What they all share in common is that they are herbivores. They like to nibble on the roots of grass, flowers, bushes, and will even chew on the bark of trees occasionally. In their quest for ever more tender things to eat, they will create a network of shallow tunnels that can make your yard look like a Jackson Pollock painting...very abstract!
Here Is a Vole
- Small, normally only 3-4 inches long
- Eyes and ears are easily seen
- Tiny feet
- Mouse-like tail but shorter
- Eats plants
Vole Damaged Yard
Another Example of Yard Damage
What Are Moles?
Moles are small mammals with nearly invisible eyes and ears. They have velvety soft fur, small hind legs, and large, powerful front paws designed to dig dirt outward, therefore creating a tunnel in front of them. While you can see the visual difference between a vole and a mole in the pictures shown here, another big difference is what they eat. Moles are after the earthworms and grubs! They are insectivores (considered one of the most primitive groups of mammals) and those tunnels are really earthworm traps. Because their saliva carries a toxin that can paralyze the worms, the moles can save them for later consumption.
The moles can leave large mounds of dirt where they push out dirt but they generally tunnel deeper than a vole and you may not see their actual tunnel unless you see the grass "moving" (see video below).
Here Is a Mole
- Slightly larger than a vole, usually 4-5 inches long
- Velvety soft fur with no nap
- Inconspicuous eyes and ears
- Large front paws with long claws (and an extra thumb) directed outward
- Solitary creatures that will normally only come together to mate
- Eats earthworms (along with grubs, snails, spiders & other insects)
Mole Hill Damage in a Yard
View a Mole Up Close
Vole and Mole Comparison
Like a mouse - smooth with a nap
Soft, velvety - with no nap
Small but easily seen
Almost invisible with a skin-line membrane over them
Small but easily seen
Almost invisible under the fur
Primarily tender roots - herbivore
Primarily earthworms - insectivore
Solitary & territorial
Methods to Get Rid of Voles
Since voles are basically like a mouse, the methods to get rid of them include trapping, poisoning, or environmental diversion.
If you choose to try to trap a vole, you can use standard mouse traps baited with apple pieces, oatmeal, or peanut butter and set at the open hole of a vole. Vole holes look like a garden hose was stuck into your yard. You may see only one or you may see several in a small area.
It is best to cover the trap with an open shoebox (or something similar) so the vole is less likely to "see" it and pets or children are unlikely to get at it. Your chance of catching the vole (or voles) is similar to your chance of catching a regular mouse. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't and it takes persistence. The best time to try trapping is in the early spring or late fall when the voles are very active.
You may also choose a live trap which is basically a small aluminum box with a hole cut into it. You hope that if you bait it and place it correctly, the vole will run into it. There are several different kinds of live traps and they are easy to find at a hardware store. The downside to live trapping is the financial aspect. The live trap will cost much more than a small spring-load trap and you need to place them fairly close together on the vole tunnel where you find open holes. You may need as many as 20-30 in a small garden to be effective in eliminating the vole (there is most likely more than one!) using this method. However...if you don't want to remove dead voles from a spring-load traps, this is probably the choice for you!
If you do live trap them, you must then decide what you will do with them. Some people will take the whole trap and submerge it in a bucket of water to drown the voles and some may take them to an open field or woods and release them. If you pick the 2nd choice, please be considerate of neighbors!
You can see many YouTube videos of trapping voles if you'd like to watch them. I haven't posted them here since they are fairly graphic and not everyone likes to see dead animals whether they are a pest or not.
To poison voles, you would utilize the same kind of product you would use to kill a mouse in your home. Most products contain "warfarin" which is a blood thinner and causes internal bleeding in the rodent after it consumes it. I will usually take a few days for the poison to work and the pest to die.
All poisoning products must be used carefully and should NOT be put outside if you have any pets or small children. Remember that any small animal could get to the poison and eat it!
Simply put, this means go far away from my yard! One of the easiest ways to chase voles away is to have a cat but not everyone can have a feline friend to patrol their yard for them. Other natural predators include snakes, hawks and owls. Some may believe they would rather have the voles than snakes but snakes will find other prey. When you know the voles will be heading for your lovely flower roots or a new shrub or tree you've planted, declare war!
One other trick to divert the little rascals is to combine "sharper" materials into the top 2-3 inches of soil. This works best in a garden, not in a large yard. You can mix in broken pieces of clay pots or mix in some gravel in a 90% soil to 10% gravel composition. This is often a good idea around the perimeter of a garden, a bush, or a tree.
Methods to Get Rid of Moles
There are basically three different methods of ridding your lawn of the pesky creatures. You will find lists of the multitude of "get rid of moles" interventions but they will all fit into one of these categories:
- Use their highly developed sense of smell against them
- Trap them within their tunnel
- Find them and dig them out with a shovel
Using the "smelly" stuff
While moles are nearly blind, they have an almost perfect sense of smell which can be used against them by using products that repel them.
One product that has been found to be effective in driving moles away is mothballs placed into the mole tunnel. The "old fashioned" mothballs made of naphthalene (not to confused with naptha) can be placed down into an active tunnel about 6-12 inches apart. That distinctive odor (which dissipates in the air quickly but stays in the tunnels for several days) encourages the moles to abandon that tunnel. Moles do dig quickly - about a foot per minute - so they will just dig another tunnel but hopefully not straight across your lawn.
The old fashioned mothballs have a more offensive odor than the newer mothballs made of naptha and so they have been found to work better in chasing the moles away. Keep in mind that naphthalene converts into a toxic gas and cause cause health issues if inhaled. In addition, you won't want to place mothballs anywhere that a dog could dig them up and eat them.
Before using mothballs, please review the fact sheet related to naphthalene from the National Pesticide Information Center (npic.orst).
Another method of using the mole's sense of smell against them is to use castor oil. This method has been around for generations and can prove to be effective. The castor is mixed into a mixture that is sprayed upon the lawn with particular attention to any mole hills and/or known tunnels. The smell will drive moles away however the spray needs to be re-applied every 1-2 weeks and after heavy rain.
The Common Recipe for Castor Oil Spray
1/2 cup unrefined Castor Oil
2 Tablespoons of liquid dish washing soap (the soap acts as an emolient to allow the oil and water to mix)
After these 2 ingredients are mixed thoroughly, mix 2 tablespoons of the mixture with 1 gallon of water in a spray application container. This amount of spray should cover approximately 300 square feet of yard.
Planting GARLIC in your garden or along the edge of your yard can help keep moles away!
Trapping Moles Within Their Tunnel
Sometimes drastic methods are needed to rid your yard of moles. In that case you may want to try a spring-load metal trap that you put down within the actual tunnel. This method will involve the purchase of the traps and digging a small hole down into the tunnel to set the trap.
Except for the molehill, it may be difficult to actually see where the tunnel is at within your yard since mole tunnels are normally a few inches below the surface. Sometimes you can watch for movement under the grass (in the evening or early morning when the moles are most active) but an easier method to determine an active tunnel is to pack down the dirt in a molehill and see if the hole is back within 24 hours. Then poke your "gloved" finger down into the dirt in several places around the active molehill. You will be able to feel the open tunnel when your finger doesn't meet the resistance of the soil. If you hesitate to use your finger, gloved or not, you can use a hand trowel or the handle of a rake.
Since moles are solitary and territorial by nature, it's unlikely you will find more than 3-5 moles per acre of land. Commonly there are only 1-2 moles in a yard and they CAN BE TRAPPED! It does take patience and persistence however to be successful.
Mole Trapping Secrets
Capturing With a Shovel
Digging the moles out with a shovel may work if you are patient and quick with the shovel. If you want to save the mole and release it somewhere else, this is what you will need to do. You will first need to find an active tunnel which is explained in the above section. Then you will need to quickly dig out the clump of dirt where you see the movement. You must be VERY quick. Moles dig at Indy 500 speeds!
You can watch a man accomplish this in the first video titled: Catching Moles by Hand
What about your yard?
If all else fails in ridding your yard of pesky little varmints, call a professional exterminator!