Gophers, voles and moles
CSU Horticulture Agent
Northeast Colorado is home to the plains pocket gopher or Geomys bursarius. Prairie voles or Microtus ochrogaster also find their home in our area. But wait there is one more damaging critter, moles or Scalopus aquaticus spp caryi who live along the Lower South Platte which includes Logan, Sedgwick, Phillips, Morgan, Washington and Yuma counties.
Each one of these critters will leave their mark in a different way. First, plains pocket gophers like to leave mounds and dig tunnels. These are usually found more frequently in sandy and silty soils. They tend to stay away from compacted soils. These gophers will construct a burrow system where they create fan shaped mounds that are from 12 to 18 inches wide and 4 to 6 inches high. In other words, you can’t miss them. Voles and moles will never leave this kind of mound.
The plains pocket gopher will feed on roots gathered as they are digging their tunnels. However, they still will eat above-ground vegetation during the season when it’s green and succulent. If plains pocket gophers burrow too close to shrubs and trees they will eat the roots.
There is an upside to plains pocket gophers in that they increase soil fertility by adding organic matter from plant material and feces. They do increase soil aeration, water filtration, reduce soil compaction and more.
So, how do you control plains pocket gophers? Lethal trapping is recommended as the best method. Attempting to shoot plains pocket gophers is impractical since they rarely come above ground.
Prairie voles are active day and night all year long and they do not hibernate. Out of all the critters in this article, I would say these are the most challenging. Voles construct surface runways and underground tunnels. They can live from two to six months and a single burrow can contain several adults and young. Voles can have anywhere from three to six young per litter and three to 12 litters per year. In fact, populations can fluctuate from 14 to 500 voles per acre. Naturally, their population fluctuates according to dispersal, food quality, climate, predation, physiological stress and genetics.
Prairie voles will girdle trees and shrubs and their roots. They make irregular patterns of gnaw marks on stems about 1/16 to 1/8 an inch. They love tall grass or heavy snow or weed barrier fabric for cover. So keep the grass mowed around trees and watch in heavy snows. Check under fabric periodically if you suspect they are around.
There are a number of ways to control prairie voles such as trapping, repellents, poison grain baits or habitat modification.
As for our last critter, moles they do leave mounds like plains pocket gopher. In fact, they do not leave any mounds at all. They do construct shallow tunnels but they are below ground. Moles are insectivores, not rodents, as voles and plains pocket gophers are considered rodents. Moles are related to shrews.
Like voles, moles do not hibernate either. They are active throughout the year. Their diet consists mainly of grubs, beetles, beetle larvae, and worms found in the soil. Since their diet includes insects living in the soil explains the reason they are found destroying our lawns and other recreational areas with wide expanses of turf grass.
Yes, there is an upside to the presence of moles. Moles are shifting soil particles when digging tunnels which permit better aeration of the soil. They enable humus (organic matter) to travel deeper into the soil. Their tunneling shifts the subsoil material to be moved closer to the surface. In that way nutrients may be more available to plant roots.
The best way to control moles is to control the grubs and other insects they feed upon. Toxicants will work, but vibrational devices do not. Nor will repellents work on moles.
So now you have the facts about gophers, voles and moles. Each serves their own purpose. If you have any questions, feel free to contact your local Extension Office for assistance.
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