Gopher vs Mole Showdown: How to Tell Who’s Wrecking Your Yard

Gopher vs Mole Showdown
Gopher vs Mole Showdown

Unraveling the mystery of yard disturbances often leads us to a classic showdown between two underground dwellers: the gopher and the mole. As these elusive creatures leave their distinctive marks on lawns and gardens, discerning between their subtle nuances becomes crucial in the quest to identify the true culprit behind the yard wreckage

Introducing Gophers and Moles

Gophers and moles are two common digging pests found across North America. While they may seem similar at first glance, they are actually quite different critters.

Gophers are rodents that belong to the Geomyidae family, which includes pocket gophers and pocket mice. There are over 35 species of gophers, and they are found across most of the United States, Canada, and down into Central America. Gophers have compact, cylindrical bodies with short limbs and claws designed for digging. Their fur is soft with earthy brown tones that provide camouflage.

Moles belong to the Talpidae family of small mammals which includes shrew-moles, desmans, and star-nosed moles. There are over 20 mole species, most of which live in North America, Europe, and Asia. Moles have slim, elongated bodies with pointed snouts, small eyes and ears, and large shovel-like front feet specialized for burrowing. Their velvety fur is typically blue-black or grayish in color.

While gophers and moles may create similar mounds and tunnels in yards, they are distinctly different animals. In this guide, we’ll go over the key traits that set gophers and moles apart, and provide tips for controlling them.

Appearance: How to Tell a Gopher from a Mole

While gophers and moles can both create messy mounds in your yard, they are actually quite different creatures. The most noticeable difference is their physical appearance.

Gophers are rodents that can grow up to a foot long. They have compact, muscular bodies covered in fur that ranges from yellowish brown to darker blackish hues. Gophers also have small ears and eyes, sizable curved claws used for digging, and large whiskers. The pocket gopher, one of the most common gopher species, has large fur-lined cheek pouches used for storing food.

Moles have slimmer, more streamlined bodies around 5-7 inches long. Their velvety fur is darker black or gray. Moles have no visible ears, tiny eyes, and nostrils that are sealed shut when digging. They have large shovel-like front paws ideal for creating tunnels. Moles’ tails are hairless and are used to store fat reserves.

So in summary, gophers are slightly larger with furry cheek pouches, while moles have sealed nostrils and no visible ears. Examining a pest’s physical features can help determine if you’re dealing with a gopher or mole!

Habitat: Where You’ll Find Gophers vs. Moles

Gophers and moles have adapted to very different underground habitats.

Gophers spend most of their time below ground in extensive burrow systems. They dig tunnels up to 30 feet long that lead to nesting chambers and food storage areas. Gophers build their complex burrow networks in areas with soft, loose soil that’s easy to dig through. You’ll often find gopher holes in lawns, gardens, parks, meadows, and agricultural fields.

Moles, on the other hand, don’t build permanent tunnel systems or live underground. They construct shallow, temporary tunnels close to the soil surface to hunt for worms and other invertebrates. Moles prefer areas with moist, fertile soil that supports plenty of prey. Good mole habitat includes lawns, parks, pastures, meadows, and woods.

While gophers and moles occupy overlapping habitats, gophers need deep, loose soil for burrowing while moles simply dig through upper soil layers in search of food. Keep an eye out for mounds and tunnels to determine if gophers or moles are present.

Digging Habits: Mounds and Tunnels

One of the most notable ways to tell moles and gophers apart is by looking at the mounds of dirt they create. Though both species dig tunnels and push dirt to the surface, their burrowing behavior differs.

Moles construct volcano-shaped mounds as they travel just below the surface hunting for food. The tunnels under these mounds are shallow at only around 12 inches deep. Moles create surface ridges as they burrow, and their mounds appear in random areas of the lawn or garden.

Gophers build more fan-shaped mounds that are crescent-shaped. Their tunnels are deeper, around 6-12 inches below ground. Gopher mounds are made as the rodents push excavated dirt up from their burrow system, so the mounds connect to their tunnels below. Gopher mounds are focused in central areas along tunnels and not spread randomly.

The shapes and placement of mole vs gopher mounds provide tell-tale signs to identify which pest is disrupting your yard. Carefully inspect the mounds to determine if a mole or gopher is to blame before taking control measures. Moles create messy but shallow pits while gophers make deeper, more focused burrows.

Damage Caused by Gophers and Moles

Gophers and moles can both cause extensive damage to lawns, gardens, and landscaping. However, the types of damage differ between the two pests.

Gophers are known for completely destroying plants by gnawing on roots and bulbs underground. You’ll notice dying vegetation, wilting leaves, and plants collapsing into gopher tunnels. Gophers also leave unsightly mounds of loose soil as they excavate long tunnels. These dirt piles have a fan shape, as gophers typically push dirt to the side while burrowing.

Moles mostly create superficial tunnels close to the soil surface, rather than an extensive underground burrow system. This tunneling damages plant roots, disrupts soil and leaves noticeably raised ridges in the lawn. Moles are responsible for volcano-shaped mounds as they push dirt up vertically from deep tunnels. These molehills are made of compacted and inverted dirt, unlike the looser gopher mounds.

While moles feed on insects and grubs in the soil, they don’t actually consume roots and plants. The tunneling activity causes indirect damage. But gophers directly gnaw on roots, bulbs, and stems as they create tunnels, leading to more severe plant loss. Properly identifying whether gophers or moles are damaging your landscape will determine the best control methods to stop further destruction.

Getting Rid Of Gophers and Moles

Once you’ve identified whether you have gophers or moles damaging your yard and garden, it’s time to take action. There are several effective control methods for eliminating these pests and reclaiming your outdoor space.

Using Traps to Catch Gophers and Moles

Trapping is one of the most effective ways to get rid of gophers and moles. There are specialized scissor-jaw or harpoon style traps made specifically for these pests. With gophers, you’ll want to determine the main tunnel and set traps horizontally along it. For moles, find the main runway and set traps vertically along it. Bury the traps just beneath the surface. Check traps daily and replace as needed until you’ve caught the gophers or moles.

Using Baits and Poisons for Gopher and Mole Control

Baits and poisons containing strychnine or zinc phosphide can be placed underground in gopher and mole tunnels. These pesticides are toxic when ingested. Look for formulated baits made specifically for gophers and moles. Follow all label directions closely. Be aware these poisons could potentially harm children, pets or other wildlife. Proper use and placement in tunnels is essential.

Exclusion Tactics to Keep Gophers and Moles Away

Physical exclusion techniques like installing wire mesh barriers 1-2 feet underground can prevent gophers and moles from burrowing into an area. Plastic tubes, cinder blocks, or metal baskets can also be inserted into tunnels to block activity. For moles, try solar powered ultrasonic stakes that vibe to repel them. Lined trenches filled with rocks or gravel also deter digging. Redirect any water runoff away from yards and gardens as moist soil attracts these pests.

Let me know if you would like me to expand or modify this section in any way. I’m happy to revise the content until it meets your needs.

Using Traps to Catch Gophers and Moles

Trapping is an effective method for controlling both gophers and moles. The key is using a trap designed for each pest’s habits and behaviors.

For gophers, you’ll want a two-pronged pincher trap that is placed within their underground tunnels. Gophers are highly territorial, so when a new gopher encounters the trap they will try to push it out of the tunnel, triggering the spring loaded trap which will clamp down on the gopher. Pincher traps work well because they don’t rely on bait, just the gopher’s natural behavior. Place several throughout a gopher’s tunnel system for best success.

For moles, you’ll want a harpoon or scissor-jawed style mole trap that can be embedded in their shallow underground tunnels. Look for signs of an active mole tunnel, like raised ridges in the lawn, then make a small opening and set the trap according to the manufacturer’s instructions, disguising the opening again afterward. Moles are nearly blind but can detect movement and vibration, so the spring-loaded harpoon or scissor trap is triggered when the mole bumps into it while tunneling.

Trapping requires more effort than poison baits but is safer for kids and pets. When used properly, trapping can effectively remove gophers and moles from your yard.

Using Baits and Poisons for Gopher and Mole Control

Both gophers and moles can be controlled using baits and poisons, but the baiting approaches differ slightly for each pest.

For gophers, poison grain baits are very effective. These are grains treated with strychnine or zinc phosphide and placed down the gopher’s tunnel system via a burrow baiting probe. The gophers ingest the poisoned bait as they encounter it in their tunnels and die underground. Because the gophers don’t return above ground after eating the bait, this method avoids having dead carcasses to deal with. However, it does mean the baits must be applied throughout the tunnel system in order to reach all the gophers using those burrows. Professional pest control operators have specialized equipment to apply gopher baits efficiently across a property.

For moles, worm-like insecticide baits can be highly effective when placed into their underground tunnels. Containing ingredients like bromethalin, these mole baits mimic worms and grubs, enticing the moles to consume the poison. Multiple bait placements are needed throughout the mole tunnel network. The moles will die underground within a few days after eating the baits. Mole baiting is best done when the soil is moist and worms/grubs are most active, as moles are then seeking food. Homeowners can find mole bait products at many hardware and garden stores.

When using any pesticide, be sure to carefully follow label directions. Proper placement and dosage are key to getting good control and avoiding non-target animals. Baits also work best when combined with exclusion techniques like lining gopher tunnels or mole tunnels with wire mesh barriers.

Exclusion Tactics to Keep Gophers and Moles Away

Exclusion tactics involve modifying your yard to make it less appealing for gophers and moles. This causes them to move elsewhere to find easier digging conditions. Exclusion is always preferable to trapping or poisoning, since it removes the need to kill animals. Here are some of the most effective exclusion methods:

Underground Fencing

You can install underground fencing to block gophers and moles from accessing parts of your yard. Use a mesh wire fencing material and bury it at least 12 inches under the ground along the perimeter of areas you want to protect. The mesh openings should be 1/4 inch or smaller so gophers and moles can’t squeeze through. This fencing blocks them from digging into the area from another part of your yard.

Wire Mesh Baskets

Plant susceptible plants inside wire mesh baskets, both below and above ground. The openings in the mesh should be 1/4 inch or smaller. Bury the bottom portion of the basket at least 12 inches underground. This prevents gophers and moles from digging up plant roots or bulbs. The wire basket also protects the plant from above-ground feeding damage.

Trenching Around Plants

Dig a trench about 12 inches deep around the entire perimeter of plants or gardens you want to protect. Then line the trench with wire mesh fencing before backfilling it with soil. The trench barrier blocks gophers and moles from digging into the area from below ground. For permanent plantings, extend the wire mesh at least 12 inches above ground as well. Trenching works best for protecting focused areas, not entire lawns.

Exclusion tactics require an initial investment but provide long-term protection. And they don’t rely on trapping the animals or putting down poisons. For the most effective mole and gopher control, you can combine fencing, baskets, and trenching to cover both small gardens and larger areas.

Professional Pest Control for Gophers and Moles

If your DIY efforts to get rid of gophers and moles have failed, it may be time to call in the pros. Hiring a professional pest control company offers several advantages compared to handling it yourself:

  • Specialized expertise and training: Exterminators receive extensive training on the most effective methods for eliminating gophers, moles, and other pests. They know how to track tunnel systems, place baits and traps strategically, and completely remove the animals.
  • Proper use of restricted products: Some baits and fumigants that kill gophers and moles are restricted-use pesticides only available to licensed professionals. The right products applied correctly can eliminate your pest problem.
  • Ability to tackle large-scale infestations: For major gopher or mole infestations spanning acres of land, it’s most efficient to hire professionals with the right equipment. They can eliminate pests on a wider scale.
  • Preventative maintenance: Professionals will not only remove your current gopher/mole issue, but also provide advice to discourage future invasions. This prevents wasting time and money on DIY solutions that fail to work long-term.
  • Guarantees: Many pest control companies offer guarantees ensuring gophers and moles will be eliminated, providing peace of mind that the job will be done right.

Don’t spend another season watching gopher mounds and molehills destroy your landscape. Call a professional pest control company for customized solutions to eliminate these pests and reclaim your yard.

About Jarrett Kovacek 34 Articles
My role as co-owner means wearing many hats, from accounting to HR to hiring, and more! I graduated college with a degree in English, but soon after graduating, I worked as a recruiter for account professionals. While working in sales, I learned the importance of professionalism, integrity, and caring for every customer. Never did I imagine that the skills and experience I gained would lead me to join talents with my husband, David, someday. Together, we built Raccoon Removal from scratch; and I’m so proud of what it has become! In my free time, I love traveling, boating, reading, and spending time with my family and our furry pets.

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