Have you ever heard of a vole? If you haven’t, then don’t worry: most people aren’t aware of these critters, either.
Voles are a rather peculiar species because they share so many similarities with other animals people commonly view as pests. They look similar to mice and rats but are closer relatives of hamsters and lemmings.
(Though in some places, voles are also known as “field mice.”)
However, most people assume voles are related to moles due to near-identical names. They also have similar behaviors and dietary patterns: voles will burrow underground to eat roots and bulbs, which can kill plants in a garden.
Further complicating things is a subspecies called mole voles, even though this species bears a stronger resemblance to animals like the shrew.
However confusing voles may be, removing them is no different from removing any other pest. Once you’ve identified voles as a problem, you can begin taking steps to get them away from your home or garden.
What Are Voles?
Voles are a species of rodent native to the Northern Hemisphere. They are commonly found across Europe and North America, though some species (like the aforementioned mole voles) live in Asia.
They are closely related to lemmings and muskrats, making up the scientific subfamily Arviolinae. While not considered part of the same subfamily, voles are also cousins to hamsters and the various species of mice and rats native to the Americas.
Physically, voles are more stout than mice or rats. Their tails, unlike those of mice or rats, are covered in fur (though to not to the extent of, say, a gerbil’s tail).
Despite the name, voles are not related to moles. However, they do demonstrate similar behavioral patterns by primarily digging underground and eating roots. Their burrowing also has a positive benefit: it spreads vital nutrients to other parts of the soil, enriching it.
Unlike moles, though, voles don’t spend all of their lives underground. This makes them vulnerable to a host of predators that includes birds of prey, foxes and coyotes, snakes, and big cats like lynxes. Even if they manage to evade all these predators, voles typically only live for 1 year.
Signs of Voles in Your Yard
Before you begin the process of removing any voles in your yard, it’s important to look for signs that they are actually in the area. While the damage they leave is similar to the molehills and tunnels left by other burrowing animals, there are some crucial differences.
Vole tunnels are found close to the surface of the ground and are roughly 2 inches wide. The entry points for these tunnels are rarely found in the open, and will likely be closer to dense brush.
Mounds of dirt aren’t indicative of voles. These are either a sign of mole activity (molehills are conical) or gopher activity (gopher mounds are fan-shaped).
Typically, the trails left by voles are first visible in late winter or early spring. During the winter months, voles will carve tunnels and pathways along the surface to make navigating through the snow easier. Once the snow melts, these trails are plainly seen on the grass.
How To Get Rid of Voles in Your Yard
Once you’ve identified voles as the cause of any damage in your garden, you can take steps to remove them. You could always hire an exterminator or buy traps, but those methods may not be the most humane depending on how you view them.
Here are some steps you can follow to get rid of voles without having to kill them:
- Surveillance: Before you do anything else, you should try to monitor the activity of the voles. This way, you can gather which tunnels and entryways they frequent the most. Voles are most active between dusk and dawn, so night vision cameras are a helpful tool.
- Eliminate the Environment: Voles, like all animals, settle in a given territory if the environment suits their needs. You can make your yard less inviting to them by routinely mowing your lawn, clearing excess brush and removing any wood piles, or adding gravel into your yard. This gives the voles less places to hide, making them more vulnerable to predators.
- Fencing: Fences are a great way to prevent voles from sneaking into your yard or garden, provided that they are tall enough. Ideally, a fence should be 1 foot into the ground and at least 18 inches tall on the surface. That way, it’s too deep for the voles to tunnel under and too high for them to climb.
Voles, like all small pests, are deterred by a variety of things. Most pest repellants take advantage of an animal’s sense of smell, so voles are just as susceptible to things like scented oils as other pests.
Predator urine is commonly used to remove vermin from a given area. The scent of the urine (coyote and fox urine are the most widely available products) imitates a predator marking its territory, and voles will flee the area out of instinct. It’s recommended to spray your yard with predator urine at least once a week, so the voles don’t become desensitized to it.
Note: Be warned that predator urine can have the unintended side effect of welcoming predatory animals into the area, so take caution when using it.
Motion sensors can irritate voles, too. Since they are most active at night, voles are frightened by light sensors. Other sensors can be planted in the ground and emit ultrasonic vibrations, irritating the rodents and driving them away.
Scented objects can have an impact on voles, too. Objects like castor oil, garlic and ammonia will overwhelm a vole’s olfactory nerves, and routine exposure will force them to leave for good. The smell of certain plants, like roses or daffodils, can also work.
Does Juicy-Fruit Gum Kill Voles?
It’s rumored that Juicy-Fruit gum can help kill any voles taking up residence in a yard or garden. Since voles aren’t built to ingest gum, the gum will clog up their digestive tract and eventually kill them.
However, according to one gardening forum, the method isn’t all that reliable. Evidently, the gum has to be unwrapped and placed in the ground without coming in contact with your hands–easier said than done.
And there’s no guarantee that the voles will even take the bait anyway.