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Identification of Gopher, Mole, and Vole Damage

Before getting rid of moles or gophers with mole or gopher traps, you need correctly identify the guilty party so as to know which kind of traps you'll need. While there is some superficial similarity between the damage caused by moles, gophers, and voles (they all live in underground tunnels), there are clear differences between the damage they cause, making correct identification easy. Different traps and trapping methods are used for moles, gophers and voles, so learning correct pest identification is critical. 


Distinguishing characteristics of mole damage include:

1. Raised longitudinal tunnels or ridges where moles have tunneled close to the surface in soft moist soil.  Tunnels often follow along a house foundation, driveway, lawn border or other solid object. 

2. Conical or volcano shaped mole mounds that are fairly uniform in shape, though may vary in size.  Note that mole signs may include raised ridges, mole mounds, or both, depending on soil conditions. 

3. Open holes to the surface are rarely if ever seen. 

4. Moles eat live prey and cause little or no damage to perennial landscape plants.  They may damage delicate annuals by creating air pockets around roots. Extensive cosmetic damage to lawns and other garden areas.

5. Mole prefer to live in moist shady areas and most often invade from woodlands.  
Photo on left shows typical symmetrical conical shaped mole mound.   At right, raised ridge above shallow mole run in moist soil in a lawn.  These raised mole runs will often make lawn feel "squishy" when you walk on it. 
Moles push dirt straight up resulting in regular conical shaped mounds shown at left(the "plug" in the center of the mound as shown in this picture is rarely seen).  Gopher push dirt to the surface at an angle, resulting in crescent or irregular shaped mounds, and plugs are often visible. 
Distinguishing characteristics of pocket gopher damage include:

1. Crescent or irregular shaped dirt mounds as seen in photo at right, and schematic diagram above right, often with dirt plug visible in center of mound.

2.  Plugged "feeder holes" with grass or other plants chewed or eaten around perimeter of hole.

3. Gophers will make open holes to the surface to feed on surface vegetation.  These holes will be plugged with soil after the gopher is done feeding at a location.

4. Gophers cause extensive damage to turf, landscape plants, and agricultural crops by eating roots and pulling plants down into their tunnels. 

5. Gophers can live in moist to dry soil but avoid saturated areas, and most often invade from sunny wild lands or turf areas such as parks.  
Classic crescent shaped gopher mound with dirt plug visible in center of mound.   Often the gopher mounds are not perfect crescents, but they're almost always asymmetrical, and dirt plugs are often visible.
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Mole trap information including setting and placement instructions.  Learn how to trap moles
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Gopher, Vole, or Mole Traps? Get the Right Traps!

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Distinguishing characteristics of vole damage include:

1. Very clean, very round open holes with grass blades or other vegetation cropped back around perimeter of hole.  

2. Clearly visible above ground trails or runways through grass or other vegetation.  Vole sign may included, the holes, runways, or often both. 

3. No dirt mounds present on the surface.  Voles often invade tunnels made by moles or gophers, but do little digging themselves.

4. Voles can cause extensive cosmetic damage to landscapes with their tunnels and holes, and on occassion can kill shrubs or small trees by eating the bark and girdling.  

5.  Voles avoid open spaces where they are vulnerable to predators, and stay near the cover of thick ground covers or other vegetation, or seek cover in tunnels dug by moles, gophers or other burrowing animals, or take cover under winter snows.
Clean, round, open holes with grass blades cropped close around hole are a reliable sign of voles
Typical above ground vole runways.  Photo courtesy of Wildlife Control Consultants