Even if you’re not actively part of the green industry you’ve probably heard of moles but have you ever head of voles? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t because many people can go their whole lives without ever hearing about them let alone controlling them. It doesn’t help matters that they are often referred to as “meadow mice” or “field mice”. This can be misleading since mice and voles have different habits, different damage patterns and will have different methods of control. Just like any health concern, correct identification of the problem is the first step towards solving it.
Voles construct well-defined, visible tunnels, or “runways” at or near the surface with each one being 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 or garden pest can literally “beat a path” through the grass due to their sheer numbers, it’s the voles. Rabbits don’t have anything over this prolific rodent! Vole populations often are cyclic and can increase from 10 to 250 voles per acre. In North America, vole populations peak about every four years. These cycles are not necessarily regular or coupled with dramatic increases in numbers. Occasionally, high vole populations last about a year before crashing. These peaks generally result in severe damage to crops and landscapes.
Vole Hole Identifications: Voles vs. Moles
Voles are often mistaken for moles. This is because both moles and voles are responsible for runways in lawn and garden areas, they are rarely seen and let’s face it, they sound the same too. Because they are rarely seen, it makes more sense to base identification on the signs they leave behind instead of how they look. After all, you may never come face to face with these furtive foes!
Produce two types of runways in your yard. The first of these runs beneath the surface. These are feeding tunnels and appear as raised ridges running across your lawn. The second type runs deeper and enables the moles to unite the feeding tunnels in a network. It is the soil excavated from the deep tunnels that homeowners find on their lawns, piled up in mounds that resemble little volcanoes. These mounds are the dead giveaway that your problem is moles. Voles will leave no mounds behind.
Usually damage woody plants during late fall through early spring. Voles tunnel through snow and may gnaw on trees and shrubs up to the height that snow accumulates. Individual tooth marks (about 1/16th of an inch wide and about 3/8th of an inch long) may be visible on the wood after spring thaw has melted the snow down. The gnawing marks left by voles will be irregular in appearance and at various angles. In contrast, rabbits leave tooth marks that are about 1/8th of an inch wide and are very regular. Pine voles and occasionally meadow and prairie voles, tunnel below ground and feed on the roots of trees and shrubs.
Voles don’t always cause significant damage to property. Populations of voles can increase quickly however and then be a cause of concern. As with most pests, the level of damage we expect to see goes up as the overall population goes up. There are always exceptions to this rule as when just a few voles could damage a high value tree in your landscape or when a large population resides in the back forty and isn’t even noticed. It is always best to consider the cost of control in relation to the extent of damage prior to going ahead with any kind of control program. In a high value situation it is generally more cost effective to respond quickly to signs of damage rather than waiting to see how it plays out.
The most effective way to rid yourself of these destructive rodents is to use a specific vole control material. There are only a few materials available and they are federally controlled for use by a licensed applicator only. They are not available as an “over the counter” type application.
Meadow voles multiply very quickly with females producing up to 70 offspring each year through multiple litters. Colonies aften number in the hundreds and even thousands. They migrate like a swarm of bees that settle into a neighborhood and get to work chewing away at the landscaping. They are particularly attracted to low brush, lawns and gardens that are well watered/ cared for as these typically have a better concentration of nutrients and are easier to “dig” through. If you think about digging a hole, where would you want to dig: ground that is dry and hard or ground that is soft and loamy. When winter hits they simply go down a little deeper and keep on chewing. Some of the most severe damage occurs during the winter and is not even detected until the snow melts in the spring.
If you suspect a problem, don’t wait, delay often leads to significant damage to your lawn and possibly shrub beds. The cost of control will vary depending on the severity of the problem and time spent on site. Every infestation is unique and the solution should be custom fit to your situation. If you have any questions about your landscape please feel free to give us a call at: 208-523-5296.