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The mole is a small insect-eating mammal. Contrary to a commonly held belief, it isn’t part of the rodent family. In California, moles inhabit the Sierra Nevada, coastal range mountains and foothills, and the entire coastal zone. They aren’t usually found in the dry southeastern regions of the state or in much of the Central Valley, except for moist areas where the soil is rich in humus, such as riverbanks.

Moles live almost entirely underground in a vast network of interconnecting tunnels. They frequently create shallow tunnels just below the surface where they capture worms, insects, and other invertebrates. They may infrequently consume roots, bulbs, and other plant material, although rodent species (e.g., pocket gophers, meadow voles, and deer mice) are almost always the cause of such chewing damage. By far the greatest damage from moles occurs through their burrowing activity, which dislodges plants and dries out their roots. In lawns, the resulting mounds and ridges are unsightly and disfiguring.

Moles have cylindrical bodies with slender, pointed snouts and short, bare, or sparsely haired tails. Their limbs are short and spadelike. Their eyes are poorly developed, and their ears aren’t visible. The fur is short, dense, and velvety. Moles typically have one litter of three to four young per year. Because moles are antisocial, you will find only one mole per tunnel, except during the breeding season, which typically occurs during later winter through early spring.

Mounds and surface runways are obvious indicators of the presence of moles. The mounds are formed when moles push up soil to the surface from underground runways. The excavated soil may be in small chunks, and single mounds often appear in a line over the runway connecting them.

Surface feeding burrows appear as ridges that the mole pushes up by forcing its way through the soil. Some of the surface runways are temporary. More permanent tunnels are deeper underground and are usually about 2 inches in diameter and 8 to 12 inches below the surface. Moles are active throughout the year, although surface activity slows or is absent during periods of extreme cold, heat, or drought. Greatest mole activity occurs usually after rainfall or watering events when digging new tunnels is easiest.

Moles can cause significant problems in landscape or garden areas, especially in turf. Because mole damage can be unsightly, makes lawn maintenance difficult, and destroys valuable plants, the number of moles that can be tolerated is usually quite low, sometimes even zero. As soon as you see an active mound or surface runway, initiate appropriate control actions. Once you have controlled damage, establish a system to monitor for reinfestation.

Moles are active throughout the year and can be trapped at any time. Before setting mole traps, determine which runways are currently in use. Moles dig a system of deep tunnels that are more or less permanently used as well as a network of surface runs used for feeding. Some of the surface tunnels are only temporary, so they may not make a good trap set. Moles are more likely to be trapped in the deep runways, which they reuse almost permanently.


A vole is a small rodent; a relative of the mouse, with a stouter body, a shorter, hairy tail, a slightly rounder head, smaller ears and eyes. The vole are sometimes referred to as “meadow mice” or “field mice.” But when you identify the damage they cause in lawn and garden alike, you’ll quickly learn that this is a typical type mouse. Voles are small rodents that grow to 3–9 inches depending on the species.

They can have five to 10 litters per year. Gestation lasts for three weeks and the young voles reach sexual maturity in a month. As a result of this biological exponential growth, vole populations can grow very large within a very short time. Since litters average five to 10 young, a mating pair can birth a hundred more voles in a year.

Voles construct well-defined, visible tunnels, or “runways” at or near the surface, about two inches wide. Vole runways result from the voles eating the grass blades, as well as from the constant traffic of numerous little feet beating over the same path. And if any lawn and garden pest can literally “beat a path” through the grass due to their sheer numbers, it’s the voles.

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