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Identification of Gopher, Mole, and Vole Damage

Comparison of mole and gopher mounds
Crescent shaped gopher mound
Typical gopher damage in suburban lawn
Distinguishing characteristics of mole damage include:

1. Raised longitudinal tunnels or ridges where moles have tunneled close to the surface in soft moist soil.  Tunnels often follow along a house foundation, driveway, lawn border or other solid object. 

2. Conical or volcano shaped mole mounds that are fairly uniform in shape, though may vary in size.  Note that mole signs may include raised ridges, mole mounds, or both, depending on soil conditions. 

3. Open holes to the surface are rarely if ever seen. 

4. Moles eat live prey and cause little or no damage to perennial landscape plants.  They may damage delicate annuals by creating air pockets around roots. Extensive cosmetic damage to lawns and other garden areas.

5. Mole prefer to live in moist shady areas and most often invade from woodlands. 

The first step in solving a burrowing pest problem is correct identification of the guilty party.  While there is some superficial similarity between the damage caused by moles, gophers, and voles(they all live in underground tunnels), there are clear differences between the damage they  cause, making correct identification easy.   Different traps and trapping methods are used for moles, gophers, and voles, so learning correct pest identification is critical.  

 
Moles
Moles push dirt straight up resulting in regular conical shaped mounds shown at left(the "plug" in the center of the mound as shown in this picture is rarely seen).  Gopher push dirt to the surface at an angle, resulting in crescent or irregular shaped mounds, and plugs are often visible.
Raised mole run in grass
Photo on left shows typical symmetrical conical shaped mole mound.   At right, raised ridge above shallow mole run in moist soil in a lawn.  These raised mole runs will often make lawn feel "squishy" when you walk on it. 
Mole hill showing symetrical volcano shape
Distinguishing characteristics of pocket gopher damage include

1. Crescent or irregular shaped dirt mounds as seen in photo at right, and schematic diagram above right, often with dirt plug visible in center of mound.

2.  Plugged "feeder holes" with grass or other plants chewed or eaten around perimeter of hole.

3. Gophers will make open holes to the surface to feed on surface vegetation.  These holes will be plugged with soil after the gopher is done feeding at a location.

3. Gophers cause extensive damage to turf, landscape plants, and agricultural crops by eating roots and pulling plants down into their tunnels. 

4. Gophers can live in moist to dry soil but avoid saturated areas, and most often invade from sunny wildlands or turf areas such as parks. 
Pocket Gophers
Classic crescent shaped gopher mound with dirt plug visible in center of mound.   Often the gopher mounds are not perfect crescents, but they're almost always asymmetrical, and dirt plugs are often visible.