Voles vs. Moles: How to Identify Them (and Get Rid of Them)

Learn to tell these critters apart, and handle them safely, with advice from experts.

<p>Damian Kuzdak/Getty Images</p>

Damian Kuzdak/Getty Images

Voles versus moles: It sounds like the premise of a bad animated kids' film, but alas, it’s not! Voles and moles are exclusively grown-up problems, and both creatures are kind of a nuisance. Despite their diminutive statures, they make their presence well-known by wreaking havoc on gardens and lawns.

Sometimes it can be a challenge, though, to determine which animal is responsible for the damage—and this matters, because it’ll help inform how you eliminate the problem! Here, we’ll go over how to tell whether you have moles vs. voles and share expert tips on how to get rid of them safely.

Meet the Expert

Roger Dickens is the technical services manager of bird and wildlife control at Terminix.

Related: How To Get Rid of Mice With These Strategies From Pest Control Experts

Physical Differences

According to Roger Dickens of Terminix, one of the biggest differences is literally how big they are: Moles are larger than voles.

“Moles are approximately the same length as the width of someone’s hand; voles are smaller and similar-sized as mice,” he says. Makes sense—voles are in the rodent family, while moles aren’t! They’re actually in the shrew family.

Additionally, moles have a longer snout compared to voles, which have a snout that is short and stubbed, similar to a hamster. Dickens says the color can vary as well—moles tend to have darker gray fur, whereas voles tend to be shades of brown.

Keep in mind, though, that since moles are fairly subterranean, you’ll rarely see them, Dickens notes. (You might catch a glimpse of a vole though—they can be seen running from their hiding spots when those spots are exposed.)

Dietary and Behavioral Differences

Another big difference between the two animals is their diet. Moles are insectivorous, meaning they eat insects like earthworms, slugs, and other invertebrates in the ground. They find their prey by digging tunnels underground. So if you see tunnels in your yard, you’ve got a mole! (Or a few.)

Dickens confirms that voles are rodents and eat vegetation and seeds. They will also eat the roots of some landscape plants. Instead of tunnels, “they create trails or ‘runs’ across the ground,” Dickens says. They are most noticeable after the spring snow melts or when an object is lifted off the ground and the runs become visible.

Preferred Habitats

According to Dickens, there are several mole species native to the U.S., but most are generally located east of the Rocky Mountains.

Voles, on the other hand, can be found throughout the continental U.S. They are typically found in meadows, grasslands, and fields.

Reproduction Cycles

Moles reproduce one time per year with a litter size of three to five young. Generally, they are born in March or April.

Dickens surprised us with this tidbit: Voles are one of the fastest reproducing animals in North America. They can reproduce any time of the year and often have up to 10 litters per year, with three to six young per litter!

Identifying Damage Caused by Voles vs. Moles

Moles and voles cause damage that's mostly related to the way they eat. Moles are carnivorous creatures, while voles are vegetarians. So if you see plant damage, you are dealing with voles, not moles. There are different types of damage that these two species can cause.

Tunnels and Runways

Moles can damage the lawn by burrowing as they search for food or mates. People often notice a raised section of turf that flattens out when stepped on. Dickens also points out that people sometimes notice a mound of freshly excavated soil where moles have been active.

Voles sometimes burrow underground, but they are more likely to create runways on the surface of your lawn. While unsightly, the runways don't do underground damage like tunnels do.

Mounds and Holes

Moles dig—you guessed it—molehills, which are volcano-shaped mounds. Voles, on the other hand, don't build mounds; they tend to burrow underground in small holes, usually at the base of a tree. The burrowing can lead to root damage, which can cause the plants and trees to die. People will begin to notice the plants turning brown or even tipping over from voles eating the roots.

How to Remove and Keep Moles and Voles Away,

According to Dickens, moles can be trapped with a specialized contraption. You can also use a mole-labeled pesticide, which tends to be very effective, but for this option, you should contact a pest control professional.

Voles can also be trapped by placing mouse traps perpendicular in the “run” or trail. Capsaicin-based repellents are also effective to keep voles out of your landscaping beds.

Related: How to Get Rid of Mice Naturally With Home Remedies

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