Voles and Moles – Doing Battle with a Greedy Foe

voles in a yellow-gloved hand

Voles and Moles

Voles will be the death of my gardens! I blamed last year’s very warm winter on the population explosion of voles at Bear Lake, Idaho. These greedy little animals even climbed in our cold frames and ate 1,000 lilium bulbs right out of nursery pots so their offspring were populating on gourmet food. It was unreal. We had no idea until the cold frame covers were removed and every single pot had a nice tidy hole where the lilium bulb had been removed. This started my war on Voles but it’s a war they are winning!

This spring as the snow melted, huge areas of lawn are filled with trails and runways for the Voles multiplied and socialized under the snow all winter. This blew my theory that their population increase was due to a warmer winter than usual for Bear Lake temperatures were bitter this winter. So what is the deal with voles? Our gardens have never had this problem before.

First of all, Voles come and go in cycles and these cycles are unpredictable sometimes every five years and often a longer cycle. How long the cycle lasts probably depends on how the war is fought. They have no fear of us, but we never see them–only their underground runway burrows and holes in lawns and flowerbeds.
Second, they multiply quickly if abundant food is available for they can eat their body weight daily. Every female has at least five litters of young a year and each litter can be up to 10 or 11 young. A young female can start breeding when only 40 days old.

Third, the simplest way to get rid of them is to use a poison called zinc phosphide and an anticoagulant, toxin but these can only be applied by a certified applicator. The toxins are available in pelleted and grain bait and may be placed by hand in runways and burrow openings. These Toxins are always a hazard to humans, pets and birds.

MAFishguy, the creator of the video below, suggests one ingenious way to trap and kill voles:

Fourth, cultivation of the land is an efficient method of control, but established perennial flowerbeds are not tiller- or plow-friendly. Our best removal method is our cats. The cats have bred almost like voles, but they are all good mousers and seem to enjoy spending their summer days prowling through the grass just waiting for a fat, juicy morsel to pop its head out of the ground. Having cats eliminates any use of toxins and they do not hunt in the bitter Bear Lake winters so their effectiveness is questionable. The only way I’ll win this war is to wait for this cycle of Voles to end naturally.

If your vole problem is significant, and you are considering other extermination methods, click here to view suggestions and warnings from Terry Messmer
Professor & Wildlife Resource Specialist with USU Extension.

Photo credit: USGS


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