How to Tell Moles and Voles to Take a Hike

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One of the most irritating pests that nearly every homeowner has encountered is the ground mole. Perhaps no other creature on earth has caused homeowners so much frustration as this lowly critter. There is hardly anything more irritating than to have a perfectly manicured lawn and ten minutes later see the ground pushed up and a new run destroying the yard.

However deserving these little pests are of their bad reputation, they can’t take quite all the credit. Moles and voles are often confused for each other although they are quite different. The only similarity is that they are both garden pests that destroy gardens and lawns. They are not even of the same species, as moles are mammals and voles are rodents. Moles are carnivores (meat eaters) and they like to feast on grubs, worms, ants, beetles and other insects. Voles, on the other hand, are herbivores (plant eaters) and eat plants above ground, which causes most of the plant damage.

Moles are larger than voles, usually reaching a length of 5 to 8 inches. Contrary to popular belief, they are not blind but have very small eyes. They have no external ears which is why they can’t hear all the cussing that is directed their way. Their forelegs are very muscular and they have heavily clawed feet which is how they can dig so fast that you can literally see a new tunnel raise the earth as they dig underground.

Voles are only between 3 and 5 inches long, have a stocky build, blunt nose, small eyes and ears, short tails and sharp, visible front teeth. While moles cause havoc all year long, voles prefer winter to be active when the snow covers their tracks.

Moles dig surface feeding tunnels and deeper connecting tunnels while voles only dig surface tunnels. However, voles have a larger number of runs, so many that it sometimes looks like a maze where they are working.

Moles are solitary creatures who don’t generally interact with each other unless they need to breed which is usually only once a year and produce three or four offspring at a time. Voles are just the opposite, living close together in colonies and reproducing rapidly. Sometimes a colony of voles can have up to 300 members.

Besides creating havoc in the yard with their tunnels, the main damage done by moles is that their tunnels and holes lead to loosening of the soil and exposing plants to disease. Voles eat plants that grow in the ground itself causing lack of vegetation and damage to other existing plants.

The one thing these critters have in common is that they are both nuisances and generally pains in the hoo ha. Through the years homeowners have tried just about everything to get them to leave their yards and it looks like the moles are still winning the battle. Persistent little creatures, they are!

Controlling voles can be as simple as sending a cat on patrol. Cats love hunting rodents. The only drawback to this is that they often like to bring the kill inside to proudly show the homeowner. If you like the nature versus nature type of kill but are not too keen on the dead-in-the-house part, you could encourage other natural predators like owls. Adding a perch or two around the premises will encourage owls and hawks to locate there. Some snap traps for mice also work for voles.

Starting about this time of year when all the snow melts one can hardly drive by a yard without seeing a mole trap in a run. There are basically two kinds of traps, scissor types and harpoon types, both of which are found in garden centers. The best place to set these is in active runs, located by tamping down the dirt over active tunnels and watching to see where the dirt raises back up. Set the traps somewhere in these runs and, when the moles come swimming through, the mechanism  that delivers the final blow is tripped.

Poison and anticoagulant baits are available but they require a little more caution when using them. Care must be taken so as to not let them leak into waterways or harm unintended targets.

Many people believe moles can be regulated by controlling their food supply. Countless remedies have been tried to kill the grubs they feed on, one of their main food sources. However, even if you could kill every single grub, you would still not eradicate them, since earthworms are also a major food supply for them. You have to also weigh the consequences because when you send them scurrying out of your yard it usually means they are just re-locating to your neighbor’s. Decide how well you and your neighbor’s relationship is before you decide to send them on over.

Through the years homeowners have tried some unique gadgets and means to reign supreme over the moles. These include: sonic chasers which vibrate underground but also send the pests to the neighbors; gas cartridges lit and inserted in the runs; flooding the burrows with water; placing moth balls in the tunnels; and dumping used kitty litter and glass fragments in the runs.

My personal favorite was buying pack upon pack of chewing gum, namely Juicy Fruit was reported to be the best, and inserting the sticks of gum in the runs. The theory behind this is that the gum would clog their intestines and they would go quietly to mole heaven. The only thing this accomplished is that we had a yard full of moles with fruity breath.

Now, if you have an abundance of patience, there is one fool-proof method to rid your yard of moles, one lowly critter at a time. I have actually seen this done. You stand with a pitch fork and wait until you see the earth move. Then stab the mole as he forges his run.

They say there is a purpose for everything and every creature on earth. What could it possibly be with the lowly mole? Perhaps it is to give us all some common ground in something to discuss and complain about other than the weather!