Homeowners are sometimes confused
regarding what is causing damage to their
lawns and flowerbeds. Many will blame
moles for damage in their yards when a
separate species, the vole, is the culprit.
Moles are fossorial (found digging and
living underground), and landowners
most often see evidence of moles in the
raised ridges, surface tunnels or mounds
Voles are semi-fossorial
(partly or sometimes found digging and
living underground) and are most often
noticed by runways through grass, thatch,
mulch or leaf litter above the soil layer
instead of by the raised tunnels produced
by the burrowing moles.
Voles are rodents that feed on vegetation,
fungi, fruits, nuts and seeds. Their
runways are found in the deep thatch,
mulch, loose dirt and leaf litter. They
often leave grass clippings behind in
these runways. Voles will enter short
underground burrows to nest; however,
their runways are mostly above the
surface of the soil.
The most identifiable
sign of voles is their extensive surface
runway system through flowerbeds
or lawns. Voles are active both day and
night year-round. They do not hibernate
and continue to feed and produce
tunnels beneath snow.
Landowners most often notice vole
damage by finding girdled plants or
shrubs and trees that are gnawed on right
at, or slightly above, ground level. Voles
will climb up into vegetation and bite off
branches, or feed on fruits and vegetables.
White-tailed deer are often blamed for
vole damage. Deer do not have upper
incisors and will leave a small tendril
of vegetation when they bite and tear
Voles have pronounced upper
and lower incisors resulting in a clean
cut. Voles will eat small portions of fruits
and vegetables, leaving them on the vine
or stem. Deer, however, normally break
fruits and vegetables off the stem or vine.
Habitat modification practices, such
as removing thatch, leaf litter or mulch,
in areas that support voles can reduce
the likelihood of vole damage. Regularly
mowing lawns or turf to reduce grass
height and cover can also help reduce
vole damage, as can clearing mulch from
flowerbeds or around the base of trees
to a 3-foot radius.
Hardware cloth can
be used to exclude voles from seedlings,
trees and shrubs. The mesh size should
not be any larger than ¼ inch and it
may need to be buried about 6 inches
to prevent voles from burrowing under.
Trapping can be effective in areas of
small vole populations. Place mouse
snap traps perpendicular to runways
with the trap pan in the runway. Pieces
of apple or peanut butter and oatmeal
can be used as bait for voles, but
a non-baited trap will also work.
Toxicants to control voles are available at your local home and garden stores. Use these with extreme caution, as non-target animals, such as pets and beneficial animals, may pick up the toxic bait or eat the contaminated carcasses of deceased voles.