When you start seeing mysterious mounds of dirt in the yard, are they gophers and moles?
And how in the world can you tell them apart?
Well, you've come to the right place. In this Pest Strategies you learn how to:
- Identify physical differences between gophers and moles
- Learn about their behavioral differences
- Understand their dietary differences
- Determine the differences in their mounds
- Acquire the know-how to eradicate them
The differences between gophers and moles will shape the methods and techniques you'll use to eradicate them.
Although they're both burrowing creatures, there are enough distinctions between them, especially in their dietary requirements, that it creates variations in how you approach, and deal with, their presence in your yard, garden, or fields.
In short, what works on one won't necessarily work on the other. Knowing the differences will save you a lot of time, money, and frustration.
We've got a lot of ground to cover so let's get started!
Physical differences between gophers and moles?
This is always the place to start. They're both rodents with similar bodily shapes. However, there are more than enough distinctions to tell them apart with even a single look.
Gophers have the usual “rat” or “rodent” look about them; beady eyes, chisel teeth, whiskers, round ears, long skinny tail, and clawed feet. When you first see one, you might be forgiven for mistaking it for a large rat. The hindquarters aren't as big and “bulgy” as those on a rat, but at a casual glance, it's easy to mix them up.
Moles, on the other hand, have a very distinctive appearance. They have an elongated, pinkish snout.
Their eyes are nearly invisible, their enlarged feet have a spade-like or webbed look to them – albeit with claws – and their body hair is so short on their belly they almost look naked. Their feet are bright pink, creating a strong contrast to the coloration of the rest of their body.
We've included some pictures of gophers and moles for you to look at. As you can easily see, the differences between them are very visible and easy to spot. Once you know what to look for you'll always be able to tell them apart.
Differences in behavior between gophers and moles?
Gophers live alone in their burrows, which can be quite extensive. Only when mating, or when the female is caring for her young, will there be more than one gopher per burrow. However, their burrows can interconnect with each other. Their population density can be very high sometimes, up to 60 per acre if there is an alfalfa field for them eat from.
Pocket gophers, as they're sometimes called, get their name from the deep, fur-lined external pouches on their cheeks that they use to carry food in.
Moles also live alone and the burrow systems of several moles may be connected, just like gophers. They burrow year-round, peaking in May through June, and a single mole can create an extensive network of burrows. They mate in February and March but are otherwise solitary. Population density for moles is much lower than for gophers, only about 2-3 per acre.
Differences between gopher and mole diets?
Gophers are vegetarians. Although they'll suck down some smaller insects while they're feeding, that's just an incidental type of thing.
They're going for the veggies. They eat mostly roots and tubers. Alfalfa and dandelions are their favorites, along with tree roots, bulbs, leaves, and tender roots they encounter while digging.
Moles, by contrast, are carnivores. Most people consider them to be very slow creatures, but moles actually have very high energy requirements because of their never-ending tunneling behavior. Consequently, they have very large appetites.
They can eat nearly 70-80 percent of their own body weight every day. They actively feed day and night year round. Moles eat mature insects, snail larvae, spiders, small vertebrates, earthworms and, occasionally, small amounts of vegetation. Earthworms and white grubs are their preferred foods.
These dietary differences can have significant results. Gophers will cause damage to crops and plants by eating their roots, whereas moles will damage your yard by digging it up and leaving tunnel lines everywhere. Gophers cause the most economic damage, while moles cause mostly aesthetic damage to the beauty of your landscaping.
Differences between gopher and mole tunnels/mounds?
Gopher mounds exhibit a distinctive fan, horseshoe, or semi-circular shape. The entrance to the burrow is on the “open” side of the mound. Once you see one, you'll never mistake it for anything else. They really stand out.
Their tunnels are 12-18 inches underground, so they're mostly invisible from above. The only indications of their presence are the mounds – and each gopher can have several mounds connected to the same tunnel system.
Mole mounds, on the other hand, look like miniature volcanoes, round with the burrow entrance in the center. Their tunnels, on the other hand, are clearly visible everywhere they go. They leave the ground soft and mushy. One of the dangers associated with them is the risk of a twisted ankle if you step on a mole tunnel and it collapses under your weight.
How do you get rid of gophers and moles?
Gophers can be eradicated by:
- Trapping their runs
- Baiting their runs and mounds
- Use of sonic or chemical repellents
- Fumigating their burrows
Moles can be eradicated by:
- Trapping their runs
- Baiting their runs
- Use of sonic or chemical repellents
- Spraying pesticides to kill the insects they feed on
Fumigation works fairly well on gophers because their burrows are deep enough underground to prevent major leakages of the gases used on them. It's rather time-consuming because of the need to fumigate each mound separately and seal off any leaks that do occur – and there are always some. Fumigation doesn't work on moles because their tunnels are so close to the surface there's no way to trap the gases inside. It'd be like trying to fumigate a roll of chicken wire.
Spraying does work for moles though, not by spraying them but by spraying pesticides to kill the insects they feed on. I once sprayed 200 gallons of Dominion on a woman's yard to kill the bugs her moles were eating. I killed a lot of bugs that day but it's a one-time fix. When the bugs come back, so do the moles.
Spraying doesn't work on gophers at all.
Final Thoughts On Moles & Gophers
Gophers and moles have a number of similarities since they're both members of the rodent family, but the differences between are large enough to make their identification relatively straightforward.
They're both solitary creatures who create large numbers of burrows and mounds but cause damage in different ways due to the nature of their feeding habits. Eradicating them is similar in most respects except that gophers can be fumigated, while pesticides can be sprayed to kill moles' food sources.
Other Gopher Guides
Curious about other gopher guides? Check out our other detailed guides to help you deal with your pest problems.