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Moles or gophers?

By Tracey Payton

OSU Horticulture Extension Educator

If you are suffering from lawn damage, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between moles and gophers. Typically, gophers leave only mounds of dirt, whereas moles leave visible trails where they tunnel beneath the soil surface. Both can be damaging to lawns and frustrating to gardeners.

Moles have tiny eyes and ear canals concealed beneath their fur, but they have no external ears. The front feet are large for their body size and broader than they are long, with webbed toes. The hind feet are smaller and much narrower. This adaptation allows them to propel through the soil. Moles are able to eat 70 to 100 percent of their body weight in a single day and are considered "insectivores." They typically feed on grub worms, adult insects, and earthworms. Moles are able to burrow as fast as one foot per minute in search of food.

In contrast, gophers have a small flattened head, with a fur lined pouch on each side used for food storage. Also, gophers tend to be "buck-toothed" and have small eyes and external ears. Gophers are strict herbivores and feed on roots and/or leaves of plants. They can feed on trees, shrubs, and turf.

So, what should you do? One method of control for moles and gophers is trapping. This is most beneficial when the disturbance is visible at the soil surface, such as mounding or tunneling. Moles are typically solitary animals; so if you trap one, the problem will most likely be resolved. For moles, food reduction is commonly practiced. If you eliminate grubs, you won't have moles; although, the mole may still be in your lawn, due to the water source present. Using insecticides to eliminate grubs can be costly and can reduce beneficial insects present in the lawn.

Barriers can be used to prevent a mole or gopher from entering smaller areas, such as a small bed. They can be constructed of aluminum sheeting or mesh galvanized hardware cloth. To construct a barrier, bury the material 2 to 2.5 feet and allow 6 inches to extend above the soil surface.

One of the most successful methods to control either rodent is baiting. Since gophers are herbivores, poisoned grain or other strychnine alkaloids are used. Previously, baits for moles were ineffective. Currently, there are baits similar to synthetic fishing worms. The worms are poisonous to the mole and are more tempting than the old pellets. The worms are available at feed and seed stores, nurseries, or any place selling pesticides. As with any chemical, always refer to the label and keep away from children.

For more information, contact the Cleveland County Extension Service at 405-321-4774.

Date: 9/15/08


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