The Difference Between a Mole and a Vole

parallel images of mole and vole

Those strange underground tunnels in your yard are likely the work of a mole or vole, but which one is it? It’s easy to get these two furry ground dwellers confused. But once you learn their defining features and their tell-tale signs of damage, you’ll be able to spot the difference between a mole and a vole in no time. 

What do moles and voles look like?

You can quickly recognize a mole by observing its front feet, which look like wide paddles with striking claws. Moles are master diggers with paws designed to allow them to easily scoop dirt and tunnel through the ground.

Not only are voles frequently confused for moles, they are also often mistaken for mice, given their mouse-like appearance. It doesn’t help that two of their common names are meadow mouse and field mouse. The best way to tell a vole apart from a mouse is to look at the tail: voles have short tails, while a mouse’s tail is nearly the length of its body.

Don’t confuse moles and voles with shrews, another small rodent. Shrews are smaller than moles and voles, and their long, pointed snouts are distinctive and make them distinguishable from voles and moles.

Let’s take a closer look at a mole and vole’s features side by side: 

Moles Voles
Moles have long, pointed snouts.Voles have blunt snouts.
Moles are typically 4 to 7 inches long.At a typical length of 5 to 7 inches, voles have a slightly smaller physical build than moles but are similar in length.
Moles have small eyes that are so tiny that it almost appears as if they have none. Voles have black eyes that are more noticeable than a mole’s eyes.
Moles have no external ears.Voles have prominent rounded ears that don’t extend past their fur. 
Moles have blackish-gray fur.Voles have a mix of chestnut-brown and black fur.
Moles have shorter tails Voles have long, mouse-like tails.

Why is the correct identification of moles and voles important? 

When you’ve got an animal digging holes in your yard, you’ll probably want to put some control measures in place. But before you can take the necessary control steps, you’ll need to identify the animal correctly. 

The reason identification is important is because vole control isn’t always going to work on moles, and vice versa. For example, voles like peanut butter but moles don’t, so peanut butter won’t be effective bait for capturing moles.

The bottom line: If you misidentify the animal and use improper control methods, you may have trouble catching it, and the damage might continue to worsen. 

Mole tunnels vs. vole tunnels

Other than spotting the animal with your own eyes (which sometimes can be hard to do), one of the best ways to determine which critter is digging in your yard is to investigate their tunnels.

Moles and voles have different burrowing techniques, and knowing what tunnel clues to look for can help you solve the mystery. 


mole hole in a yard
Evgeniy Andreev | Canva Pro | License

Delving into the earth with their broad paws, moles leave behind a volcano-shaped soil mound in the yard. If you’re finding several of these molehills in the lawn, don’t panic –– moles are solitary creatures, which means it’s unlikely a whole mole family is digging up your yard. 

Moles are meat-eaters, and they like to search for grubs, earthworms, and insects near the soil’s surface. As they tunnel near the surface, they lift the soil above them and create a noticeable ridge in the yard. When you walk on this ridge, you may feel your feet gently sink into the ground. 

Moles also dig deep runways 12 to 18 inches below the soil’s surface. They use these tunnel systems for daily travel and to forage for food during the winter and dry summer months when food near the surface is scarce. 


ground vole coming out of a hole
Gerdzhikov | Canva Pro | License

Voles don’t create large, volcanic mounds of dirt when they dig their entrances. A vole’s entryway into its burrow is typically 1 ½ to 2 inches in diameter. So if your lawn has piles of excavated earth, it’s probably the work of a mole and not a vole (although it also could be that excavator you rented). 

The two most common types of voles that invade yards are the meadow vole and the woodland vole:  

  • A common sign of the meadow vole is the criss-cross runways they build between the entrances of their underground burrows. These open travel lanes are usually 1½ inches wide, can be completely grass-free, and often appear as small ditches in the ground.
  • Woodland voles (also known as pine voles) do not create these surface runways. They dig tunnels 3 to 4 inches below the surface and spend most of their time causing damage underground.

Unlike moles, which are solitary animals, voles often live with other voles. A single burrow system may house several adult voles and their offspring. 

Mole damage vs. vole damage

Not only do these critters damage your lawn’s appearance with their tunnels, but they can also damage the plants in your gardens and orchards. Below, we’ve outlined the type of destruction you can expect to see from moles and voles. 


If you’re deciding whether or not to have the moles in your yard removed, you should be aware of what kind of damage they can cause:

  • Moles are a common reason for brown grass because they tear up your turf’s root system. 
  • They may dislodge plants in gardens or flower beds as they tunnel for insects.
  • Tunnels can ruin plant roots and kill grass.

Luckily, moles are carnivores, so they’re not going to harm your plants by gnawing on them, and they will stick to eating insects. But they can create ridges in your soil and be enough of a nuisance that homeowners will want to remove the moles from their yard.


Quinn Patrick | Canva Pro | License

These herbivores will often put plants through distress, especially your fruit trees. Voles can cause extensive damage to orchards and garden beds. Additionally, they damage both young and mature trees by gnawing on their bark. 

If voles gnaw entirely around the trunk or roots, they may kill the tree by girdling it. Girdling is when the tree’s flow of nutrients and water is disrupted. 

Signs of vole damage to trees and shrubs include: 

  • Gnaw marks about ⅛ inch wide and ⅜ inch long. The gnaw marks appear in irregular patches and various angles on the roots and tree bark. 
  • The injured tree grows more slowly or looks off-color.
  • The tree has reduced fruit harvest.
  • When the ground is covered in snow, damage to trees can appear a foot or more up the trunk. Voles will often take advantage of the snow to explore new areas without the threat of predators. 

When gardeners are weeding or watering their vegetable gardens, they might notice damage to their plants caused by voles wreaking havoc to the plants. Voles love to snack on a variety of veggies, including: 

  • Artichokes
  • Beets
  • Cabbage
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower
  • Celery
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips

Voles will also create paths in your lawn that can damage your grass. Both moles and voles are carriers for infectious diseases, so you won’t want these critters scurrying around your home. To get rid of voles, you should call wildlife removal services

Mole behavior vs. vole behavior

Aside from differing in appearances, moles and voles have varying eating habits and levels of activity at different times of the year. Even the construction style of tunnels is different between the two species. Learning about their behavior can help homeowners identify which type of pest they are dealing with. 


Andreas Steidlinger | Canva Pro | License

You’ll most likely find a mole’s surface tunnels in spring and fall when grubs and earthworms are near the soil’s surface. They spend winter and dry summer months in their deeper tunnels searching for food. Moles are active year-round and don’t hibernate. 

  • Eating habits: Moles are insectivores who eat insects (earthworms, grubs, beetles) and plants. Moles are voracious eaters who can eat 60% to 100% of their body weight in insects. 
  • Reproduction: Moles reproduce in litters of 2-6. They usually only have one litter a year.
  • Lifespan: 3-6 years


Similar to moles, voles also are active year-round and don’t hibernate. Instead, they tunnel down deeper to escape the cold winter weather. In snowy areas, they burrow under the snow and run along the lawn, creating runways through your grass.

Voles typically cause damage to woody plants during late fall through early spring since green vegetation is scarce during that time of year.

You’ll likely find lawn damage in late winter or early spring when the snow melts and reveals the criss-cross runways. Voles often explore new open areas thanks to snow cover protecting them from predators. 

Due to their vegetarian feeding habits, voles like hanging out under bird feeders where they can eat birdseed. They also lurk in flowerbeds where they can snack on flower roots. 

  • Eating habits: Voles are herbivores who eat plants (grass, bulbs, roots, seeds, tree bark)
  • Reproduction: Voles reproduce rapidly and have 5-10 litters a year.
  • Lifespan: 3-12 months

Where do moles and voles live?


Michael David Hill, 2005 | Wikimedia Commons |  CC-BY-SA-3.0

Moles dig their tunnels through most of North America, Asia, and Europe. Moles are excellent swimmers, too, making them right at home in wetlands and riparian habitats. Moles can be found inhabiting a variety of places, including:

  • Lawns
  • Golf courses
  • Fields
  • Meadows
  • Orchards
  • Forests


Similar to moles, voles also inhabit North America, Asia, and Europe. You’ll find these rodents scurrying through areas such as:

  • Grassy fields
  • Lawn
  • Meadows
  • Prairies
  • Woodlands

What are the benefits of moles and voles?

Moles and voles are a nuisance in the lawn, but both animals play essential roles in the ecosystem. Let’s take a closer look at some of their benefits: 


  • Moles feed on grubs and insects that some homeowners try hard to get rid of, such as ants and termites in your yard
  • Moles can help promote lawn aeration in the soil by building their tunnels.
  • Their tunneling allows organic matter to travel deeper into the ground.


  • Their frequent consumption of vegetation stimulates decomposition.
  • Their nutrient-rich fecal matter is beneficial to plants.
  • Like moles, vole tunnels also help to aerate the soil in your yard.

FAQ about the difference between a mole and a vole

How do you get rid of moles or voles in your yard?

One of the easiest ways to get rid of invading moles or voles in your yard is to hire professional wildlife services to safely remove the wildlife. The following ways are methods for removing moles or voles from your yard:

  • Trapping. If you are trapping the moles or voles in your yard, it’s best to call professional wildlife removal services.
  • Apply castor oil to your lawn. Sprinkling mole repellents with castor oil on your yard will help keep moles away. 
  • Remove their source of food. Grubs are a tasty food source for moles, so you can introduce beneficial nematodes to your yard or treat your lawn with milky spore to reduce the number of grubs in your yard. 
  • Poison. Although it is a less humane method, you can use poison to get rid of the moles or voles in your yard. 

How do you stop moles and voles from entering your yard?

Preventative measures are the best way to ensure that you won’t have to deal with moles or voles in your yard at all. Here are some things you can do to discourage moles and voles from paying your yard a visit:

  • Regular lawn mowing.
  • Dethatching.
  • Pull out weeds.
  • Remove dense vegetation. 
  • Avoid applying thick layers of mulch, especially around trees.
  • Rake up leaves. 
  • Remove any tree branches or sticks on your lawn. 
  • Don’t overwater your grass.
  • Remove wood stacks.
  • Build a fence that stretches several inches underground. 
  • Remove bird feeders or clean up bird seed lying on the ground.

A tidy, well-kept lawn is one of the best ways to keep voles and moles out of your yard. Setting up pinwheels around your property can also act as a deterrent to moles. Moles don’t like the vibration and noise that a spinning pinwheel makes.

Can plants repel moles?

Certain types of plants help repel moles, so if you want to prevent moles from coming to your yard, try adding these plants to the perimeter of your property:

  • Allium
  • Castor bean plant (be careful, since castor bean plant is poisonous to pets)
  • Daffodils
  • Fritillaria
  • Garlic
  • Marigold
  • Shallot

How do you collapse a mole tunnel?

Mole tunnels eventually will collapse on their own, so homeowners don’t have to do anything to fix it. But if you want to fix the tunnels right away, then mole tunnels can usually be collapsed by stomping on the ridges to compact the soil. 

You can also use a shovel or run a lawn mower over the area to push the soil down. For another option, you can add dirt to the tunnel to fill it in.

Call in the pros for damage control

Is it proving impossible to manage the mole or vole problem in your lawn? Call in a professional exterminator for help. A pest control expert will remove the animal as efficiently and safely as possible while sparing you from a DIY pest control headache. If your lawn is in shambles from tunnels and runways, hire a local lawn care professional to tidy up the turf. They can aerate the soil, spread fertilizer, mow the grass, and restore balance to your lawn.

Main Image Credits:
Mole: Tuned_In / Canva Pro / License
Vole: CreativeNature_nl / Canva Pro / License

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is an artist, writer, and nature lover. She enjoys teaching readers about the importance of eco-friendly lawn care, integrated pest management, biodiversity, and sustainable landscaping.