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Voles and moles

By Al Cooke, Extension Agent
Posted Friday, July 15, 2005

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Moles are carnivorous. They feed largely on insects and worms and are usually found in lawns or other grassy plantings. They do not feed on plants. Those who dissect them find about two dozen different types of insects/worms in their stomachs. So the popular strategy that focuses on eliminating grub worms may be a futile excercise. In my observations, it seems that when the food supply is reduced, they simply create more tunnels in search of something to eat.

Voles are vegetarians. They feed on plant roots and on the lower bark of woody trees and shrubs. I have had people bring in rootless shrubs the bottom of which looked like it had been chewed by a beaver, only much too small for beaver.

Besides the feeding habits, moles are most commonly found in lawns, voles in plant beds. Moles make visible tunnels and sometimes just push up piles of soil from beneath with no obvious tunnel close to the surface. Voles may use these tunnels or make their own but the tunnels tend to be less obvious. Visual evidence includes holes about the size of a $0.50 piece at the surface especially around plants.

Control of either of these pests should follow a system of concentrating on where they are most active. Each of us has major roads we travel every day and other roads we travel weekly, monthly, or even less often. With voles and moles it's a good use of our time to concentrate control activities in areas where they can be expected daily.

Cave in mole tunnels in several locations with your foot, mark the spots, and in 24 hours determine which tunnels have been re-opened. For voles, drop pieces of apple in the open holes and reinspect those in 24 hours. Apple pieces that are chewed or removed are good indicators of vole activity.

The only legal option for controlling moles in North Carolina is to acquire a wildlife depredation permit (919.733.7291), and use traps. Voles may be controlled by use of rodenticide (I think Rozol it the only legal product) or by use of mouse traps baited with peanut butter. (Where pets or children may be concerned, rodenticides should only be used in bait stations; ask your garden center to order some.) Some people report that incorporating gravel or stalite in the soil functions as a repellent. One of my colleagues thinks that can only be effective for lazy or not very hungry voles. Some people have gone to lengths of installing hardware cloth around select plants.

There are a lot of ifs, ands, and buts from here. Of the 100's of people I have talked to about controlling these two pests, very few have achieved long-term results they described as satisfactory. My thinking is that both animals are following strong biological imperatives - eating to survive and reproducing. Unless our efforts are backed by a stronger determination and persistence, we will not be in a strong position.

For some of us who lack long term persistence, the fall back position is to consider the possbible and probable and adjust our expectations accordingly.

There is a good leaflet on voles at It covers more of the contingencies and includes some diagrams of how to be effective with traps.

For more of the contingencies involved with moles, have a look at

Good luck. This is not an easy quest.


Mole is the common name for certain small, burrowing mammals characterized by a pointed snout; rudimentary eyes; soft, thick, velvety fur; short legs; broad feet; and long, powerful claws on the front pair of legs. Moles are indigenous to Europe, Asia, and North America. The voracious animals dig below the surface of the ground for their food, which consists principally of earthworms and insect larvae. They are capable of digging rapidly, using their powerful forefeet and claws to push the earth back behind them. Close to the surface of the ground, moles construct their elaborate burrows with many chambers; their burrowing often produces ridges on the surface.

Of the 12 genera of moles, 5 are found in the United States. The typical mole of the eastern United States is the eastern, or garden, mole, which is 12 to 21 cm (5 to 8 in) long, of which 2 to 4 cm (.8 to 1.6 in) is naked tail. The western mole is the largest American species and may attain a length of more than 24 cm (more than 9.4 in). The hairy-tailed mole has crescent-shaped nostrils. The star-nosed mole has on its snout a star-shaped projection composed of 22 rays that are used to sense its environment; there is some evidence that the rays can detect the low-level electrical fields of earthworms in the mole's wet habitat. The animal is an excellent swimmer. The shrew mole is the smallest of the American moles. It measures 10 to 13 cm (4 to 5 in) in length, of which 3 to 4 cm (1 to 1.6 in) is tail.

Moles belong to the family Talpidae in the order Insectivora. The eastern mole is classified as Scalopus aquaticus, the western mole as Scapanus townsendii, the hairy-tailed mole as Parascalops breweri, the star-nosed mole as Condylura cristata, and the shrew mole as Neurotrichus gibbsii.

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Voles and moles

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