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The Difference Between Moles and Voles

By Chris Williams on July 9, 2013.

Moles vs. Voles

Question

I’ve never been clear on the difference between a mole and a vole. Which one is eating my plants?

Answer

Of these two, only the vole would eat your plants. But, of course, there are other animals and insects that could be feeding on your plants. While it doesn’t eat plants, the mole can damage and uproot plants with its digging. These two lawn and garden pests are about the same size (5-8 inches, including tail) and are often confused. Here’s how to tell one from the other.

Classification

Moles – are not rodents; they’re insectivores
Voles – are rodents; they’re similar to mice

Appearance

Moles – are grayish, have a long, pointed snout, eyes and ears that are small and hidden in fur, and very large digging claws on their front feet.
Voles – are brown to gray and look like chunky mice (they’re sometimes called “meadow mice”), but have small ears, small eyes, and a short tail.

Diet

Moles – although they are insectivores (insect-eaters), moles feed mainly on earthworms. They also feed on grubs, other insects, spiders, and centipedes.
Voles – are vegetarians; voles feed on plants, including seedlings and crops, often clipping them off at the surface. They also gnaw on and damage tree trunks in winter.

Tunneling

Moles – travel exclusively underground. They dig extensive tunnels, some deep and some just below the surface, often seen bulging up in lawns and gardens or caving in when abandoned. Tunnels are sometimes topped by mounds of dirt called “mole hills”.
Voles – travel both above ground and in tunnels. They will travel through mole tunnels underground to feed on plant roots and seeds. Voles leave well-worn, above-ground trails through grass that lead to burrow entrances.

Nests

Moles – have deep underground burrows connected by their tunnel system.
Voles – multiple ground openings of 1-2 inches in diameter lead into short , shallow underground nests made of grass, leaves, and other vegetation.

Photo credit: Sergey Yeliseev / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: alex987854 / Foter / CC BY-NC

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