Moles or Voles?
By Chris Williams on April 29, 2011.
Q. I’m having a terrible time with moles eating my garden plants. I’m finding my new seedlings chewed off at the base and there are holes in the ground nearby. Will a mole trap work to get rid of them?
A. It’s not moles that are eating your plants. You can blame moles for their messy tunneling through your vegetable garden, but moles are carnivores, not vegetarians. They’re not the guilty party. Moles spend almost all their time in underground tunnels searching for worms and grubs to feed on. You may not even know that you have moles in your yard unless you see the raised-up ridges of the tunnels on the surface or the mounds of pushed-out dirt called mole hills (as in, “don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill!”)
Then what is eating your plants? There are several animals that could be suspects but, with the presence of nearby ground holes, it’s most likely voles. Voles are sometimes incorrectly called meadow mice or field mice. Although voles are also rodents, they are in a completely different group than mice. A vole is slightly larger than a house mouse, but has a short tail, short ears, small eyes, and a stockier body than a mouse. And voles are vegetarians; they will eat your seedlings with relish! Voles aren’t really picky about what they eat as long as it’s plant material. They feed on seeds, leaves, seedlings, root crops, bulbs, fruits and vegetables, often removing or killing the plant.
Voles have underground tunnels and they also travel in surface runways. Voles often use already-made mole runways as travel routes to reach seeds and roots, as do other mice and shrews. Each vole’s underground burrow can have many openings on the soil surface which can make it look like there are more voles than there actually are.
Voles are attracted to areas of heavy vegetation or dense landscaping. You can take steps to make your yard less vole-friendly. Clear vegetation around the base of trees and shrubs (a common burrowing site), remove or pull back ground covers around plantings, keep grass and weeds cut short, and thin mulch to a depth of only one inch. Removing leaves and plant debris in the fall will eliminate winter cover for voles since they are active year round.
You may occasionally get a vole in a mole trap, but it’s not the best control method, particularly if you are dealing with a large number of voles. Voles can be trapped by strategically placing expanded trigger mouse traps (either baited or not) on their runways.