With the gradual snow melt , many people are wondering what happened to their yard over the winter. Some places have several holes and tunnels all throughout their yards and others have holes with mounds of dirt everywhere. Rest assured the damage isn’t caused by aliens but either Voles or Pocket Gophers.
Voles are mouse-like rodents known for damaging plant roots, trees, bulbs and grasses. They are 4-9” long and weigh about 2 oz, have grey or brown fur, round, stout body, blunt nose, short tail and legs and tiny eyes.
One vole’s home range is usually no larger than ¼ acre. They are semi-fossorial rodents so they commonly spend much of their time underground in their complex burrow systems as part of a colony. In these burrow systems is where they nest, feed on vegetation and seek protection. Voles will dig several burrows to use for shelter and have extensive runways connecting the burrows underground as well as aboveground and even through snow. They are active at all times of the year, day and night and do not hibernate.
Voles can produce 5-10 litter’s per year with 3-6 young per litter. They are some of the most prolific breeders in the rodent family. They reproduce throughout the year with peak rates in the spring and summer. They are primarily herbivorous and like to feed on grass, seeds, roots, stems and the leaves of plants.
You will know the damage is from voles if you see surface runways about 1-2” in width, holes in the lawn that are in line with the runways, girdled bark/stems, damaged roots, yellow wilted plants and stolen bulbs.
Pocket gophers are very destructive and can become a nightmare to property owners. They use their sharp claws and teeth to excavate underground tunnels and burrows. This quickly causes major lawn damage. They get their name from the fur-lined cheek pouches that they use to transport food.
Their average size is 5-14” and about .5 lbs. They have a rodent body with soft fur, thick whiskers, long, visible incisors, short neck and flat head, fur-lined pouches on either side of the mouth, small ears and eyes and short tail. They also have strong forequarters with very long claws.
Pocket gophers thrive in many environments. They live underground and prefer moist, porous soils with good drainage. They need plenty of vegetation for protection, structure and food. They consume 60% of their bodyweight in vegetation each day. They typically feed on the roots and fleshy parts of plants.
Gophers can be active during any season and day or night. They live and forage underground and very rarely emerge from their burrows to gather food. When they forage, they gather food in their cheek pouches and carry it down to their chambers where they will save it for later. They can start reproducing at about one year of age and their gestation lasts about 3 weeks. After this time female gophers give birth to 2-5 young. They are solitary animals that live alone except while mating or weaning their young.
You will know the damage is from pocket gophers if you see crescent-shaped piles of soil, girdled trees or shrubs just above ground level, root damage, loss of surface irrigation and gnawed electrical lines or water lines for sprinkler systems. Also be aware of dirt mounds on your septic drain field. Pocket gophers are notorious for causing drain field issues.
Controlling these rodents is tricky and requires a lot of patience. Trapping and poisoning are the top control measures in the industry.