JoAnne Skelly: Is it a mole or a vole? Check your trees

Last week's article on moles brought a comment from a reader that the critters destroying lawns are not moles, but voles. He is right; meadow voles or meadow mice are destroying lawns, too. While moles usually stay underground, voles leave silver-dollar-size holes in the lawn, with surface runways and shallow tunnels often evident. My cat easily catches voles. Moles eat earthworms and insects, and voles eat plant material such as roots, bark, stems, tubers and leaves. Voles often kill trees by eating the bark and underlying layer, girdling the stem, particularly in the winter under the snow. When you see junipers with dead, browned-out branches in among green branches, the culprit is usually a vole that has eaten off the bark and vascular tissue, preventing water from getting to the branch. Voles eat almost their body weight (3 to 4 ounces) daily.

Voles average 4 to 5 inches in length including the tail. Voles follow one breeding period with another. Females mature in 35 to 40 days and average one to five litters per year of three to six young. The gestation period is about 21 days.

Natural predators, such as coyotes, snakes, hawks, owls and, yes, the domestic cat, help reduce vole populations. However, there can be population explosions in years when food is plentiful. Voles do not hibernate, and they eat all year long. After the snow melts, their tunneling and damage to lawns is obvious.

Methods to manage voles include eliminating their hiding places. The population in my yard declined hugely when I removed all the junipers. Mowing grass and other vegetation close to the ground around frequently used runways may deter them. Removing weeds and other debris takes away additional hiding places. Wrapping protective screening around the trunks of trees and shrubs can reduce vole damage. Fences of 3/8-inch netted wire 6 inches below and above ground can keep them away from plants. Mousetraps placed in active runways at a right angle can catch voles.

Rodenticide baits applied in a bait station work, but follow the label carefully to avoid poisoning non-target animals such as pets or wildlife (birds or mammals). Keep children away from baits. Dispose of dead voles quickly.

Learn about growing and composting in small places from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 25 in University of Nevada Cooperative Extension's "Grow Your Own" series at 2621 Northgate, #12. The class is free, but call 887-2252 to reserve a place.

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and may be reached at or887-2252.


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