Identification – The Differences Between Voles, Moles and Gophers
Voles, moles and gophers are often lumped together in discussions regarding wildlife problems that result in torn up, damaged landscaping. This is because all three utilize tunnel systems and cause damage to plants, roots and beautiful lawns. Outside this similarity, they are actually quite unique from each other.
Voles – Field Mice
Voles, also known as meadow mice, are often mistaken for moles because they sometimes utilize and live in the same tunnel system as moles. Vole tunnels and paths will continue on top of the ground and can be very easily seen after snow melts. Meadow mice will attack plant foliage above ground, and also consume roots. Moles are often times mistakenly blamed for vole activity. Often, it takes a true mole expert to tell the difference. If the hole in question has plant matter around and in it, it may actually be a vole hole.
Moles or Voles?
It can be a little difficult sometimes to identify if your wildlife problem and damaged lawn is being caused by moles or voles. Moles primarily eat insects whereas voles and field mice enjoy plant life as well. Many times you can differentiate between a mole entrance and a vole entrance by looking at the blades and different pieces of foliage at the open opening of the hole. This means that if you find an open hole with grass wide ridges on top of the soil, you may be looking at a vole problem, not a mole issue. If you see plants near an open hole that have been chewed on, it may be damage done specifically by a field vole.
A Vole is basically a small field mouse and it looks like just that, a mouse. For the most part a vole actually looks nothing like a mole. Moles have cylindrical bodies with large, clawed, paddle like forefeet with eyes and ears that are difficult to see. They also have slim, flexible and pointy noses, and short tails. The mole physique can be a little creepy to behold for some individuals, especially the star nosed mole which has a very strange, nasty looking appendage on it’s face. Moles will occasionally leave their tunnel in search of food sources or when flooding occurs, but primarily they live underground and can be difficult to catch a glimpse of sometimes.
Zoological Classification Differences: Gophers are often mistaken for moles. It is true that both create tunnels with dirt mounds around the opening. However, they are quite different from a biological perspective. For starters, gophers and voles are rodents, belonging to the zoological order Rodentia, whereas moles are not rodents, but are rather members of the order Soricomorpha, which also includes the Shrew. Gophers do not have the huge spade-like feet, but can certainly do as much, if not more lawn damage. Moles and gophers may be in the same lawn at the same time, and may actually share the same tunnels in places.
Gophers are burrowing rodents and members of the zoological family Geomyidae. The designation “pocket” before the word gopher refers to the pockets in the gopher’s cheeks which are used by the gopher to carry food, nesting materials and other small supplies into their tunnels. Gophers are famous for their long teeth which rest on the outside of their lips enabling them to utilize their teeth to cut plant roots and shovel dirt without opening their mouths.
Gopher or Mole?
It can sometimes be hard to determine if you have a gopher or a mole, especially since it is hard to get a glimpse of them. But you can look for subtle “above ground” clues. Gopher tunnels tend to be a little larger than a mole’s, and gophers produce dirt mounds that wrap just about 3/4 of the way around the hole, whereas a mole’s dirt mound will usually wrap all the way around with a hole in the middle.
Other Potential Burrowing Culprits
It is possible that those holes or dirt mounds in your yard may have been produced by something other than voles, moles or gophers. Depending upon your environment and what part of the country you live in, potential culprits may also include prairie dogs, woodchucks, groundhogs, chipmunks, or even crawdads.