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Preventing Girdling Damage

Snakes in The Garden

Moles and Voles

Question of the Week

Moles and Voles

Just slightly larger than a mouse, moles have proportionately large feet that are used for digging all most all day, every day, year-round looking for their next meal!A. The "damage" you’ve described is caused by the winter activity of moles and voles.

Moles are small mammals that spend their entire lives below ground. At left in the picture at right, is a star-nosed mole, while at right is an eastern mole. The star-nosed mole is more common along stream banks and in lawns having generally wetter soils than those preferred by eastern moles. In either case, it's highly unlikely that you'll ever see either one - unless your cat or dog digs one up and brings it to you as a "present!"

Moles dig through the soil almost around the clock throughout the year in search of their next meal. On a good day, a mole can tunnel more than fifty feet and consume its weight in spiders, insects, snails, grubs and especially earthworms. Moles do not eat plants, and are therefore harmless in your lawn, landscape and garden, except . . . . .

Ridges of soil are often pushed up as moles burrow just below the soil surface in search of food.When moles dig within a few inches of the soil surface in search of food, they often push up narrow ridges of grass. These ridges often connect the larger mounds of soil you’ve observed in your lawn. The mounds are created as moles push dirt out of the way as they dig nesting cavities and deep tunnels several feet below ground.

While these ridges and mounds don't really hurt your lawn - in fact, they can improve water drainage and allow increased levels of oxygen to reach the root zone - they're unsightly, and could be hazardous if your step in one and twist an ankle.

Despite what you may have heard or read, baits, Juicy Fruit gum, smoke bombs, etc., won't get rid of moles. Neither will applying grub control products because moles, as mentioned above, dine on a wide range of soil-inhabiting creatures.

Unfortunately, the only proven method for eliminating moles is to trap them with mechanical harpoon, scissor-jaw or choker-loop traps.

From a management perspective the one-track lifestyle of moles - living to eat and eating to live - means that just a couple of moles can create a lot of tunnels and mounds of soil. Therefore, trapping even a couple of moles will likely reduce the problem for several years.

However, since the entire trapping process can be very tedious, I highly recommend using the services of a DEC-licensed nuisance wildlife control officer (look under Animal Removal - Wildlife in the yellow pages). They will likely “saturate” your lawn with traps to increase the likelihood of success in as short a period of time as possible.

Vole runways can be seen at the tips of the black arrows.Meanwhile, the “snake-like” trails, arrows at left, connecting your landscape beds are often attributed to moles. However, they're actually runways of matted grass between shallow, underground burrows created by mouse-like mammals called meadow voles, below right.

In the center of this picture is a meadow vole caught in the act of nibbling on a lettuce leaf at the Niagara Parks Commission Botanical Garden.While these runways may be numerous and unsightly in early spring, they quickly disappear as lawns start growing in late April and early May.

Of greater concern than the runways they create in lawns, meadow voles often feed on the bark of young trees and evergreen shrubs in landscape settings (especially crabapple trees and low-growing junipers) under the cover of snow throughout the winter months, below left!

Completely girdled by voles just above the soil surface, this maple tree will not survive more than two or three years.For detailed information on all three of these common lawn critters, I highly recommend that you visit the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology Animal Diversity Web.