By: Eddie Ayers, County Extension Agent
Are some of your plants suddenly dying? Did the tulips forget to bloom this spring? After you hunted for some bulbs, did you find little tunnels in and around your flower beds? If so, you may be a victim of the pine vole.
Often confused with moles, pine voles can be found in underground tunnels. In fact, they may use mole runs just to make it easier to move around. Pine voles are usually 4 to 6 inches in length and are covered with brown, dense fur with a bicolored tail. Their under parts are gray.
Pine voles prefer areas with a heavy ground cover of grasses. They like living in deciduous and pine forested areas, abandoned fields and orchards. They will eat grasses, seeds, tubers, bulbs and any underground growing part.
There are 23 vole species across the country. They can cause extensive damage to orchards, ornamentals and trees due to their girdling of seedlings and trees. Girdling usually occurs in fall and winter. The easily identifiable sign of voles is numerous burrow openings of about an inch around shrubs and flowers. Voles are active day and night, year round, and they do not hibernate during the winter. Their “home” range is usually ¼ acre or less.
Moles, on the other hand, are found throughout a lawn or garden. They have runs and push up soil just like the voles, but they do not come out of the ground. They stick to a diet of grubs and other crawly creatures found in the soil, and they will sometimes kill plants as their tunnels will create air pockets that roots cannot live in, so proper identification of the mammal is important.
After identifying the culprit, controlling these rodents can be challenging. Keeping grass in an area short helps with control because they do not like to move across open areas because of flying enemies. Frightening devices or repellents generally do not work and although owls, snakes and hawks are predators of voles, they seldom control vole populations. However, trapping, using a mouse snap trap, is effective along an active run during the winter. Favorite baits are peanut butter-oatmeal mixtures or apple slices. Place several traps around a hole and cover it with a box to fool them with shelter and prevent pets from getting in the traps and if by chance one gets into a home, setting a snap or live trap as you would for house mice results in successful control.
If you are seeing the pushed up soil runs made by moles, there are two basic types of control. There are harpoon traps that can be placed over an active run, but these are very tricky to use. The most effective control has been to apply granular insecticides labeled to kill grubs. These will limit the moles food source and they will leave the area if they don’t have anything to eat. The down side to this method is that the granules will also kill the beneficial critters that live in the ground. Remember when using any insecticide to always read and follow the label directions.
For more information, contact me in the Gilmer County UGA Extension office.