New York State IPM Program

February 3, 2015
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on The Difference Between Voles and Moles

The Difference Between Voles and Moles

Is it mole? A vole? These small mammals are often confused with each other, probably because they’re both associated with tunnels. But they’re really quite different and, depending on the circumstance, could be a pest — or not. Since the first step in IPM is to identify your problem, let’s shed light on these two critters.

Voles are an example of a non-protected wildlife species. They chew the bark off woody plants and their above ground tunnels can be seen in turfgrass after snow melt. Photo Credit: Tomi Tapio K (Note: Microtus agrestis is related to the two vole species found in NY, Microtus pennsylvanicus and Microtus pinetorum , but is found in Europe.)

We cheated here to give you a good look at a couple of voles. Microtus agrestis is related to the two vole species found in NY, but is found in Europe. Photo Credit: Tomi Tapio K

VOLES

Since voles are seen above-ground much more often than the elusive mole, let’s take a look at them first. You might see them darting through lawns during the day (or your cat might bring them home). They’re active day and night year-round where the ground cover is thick. These small rodents are herbivores, eating almost exclusively plants.

At a quick glance you might confuse them with mice, but their stocky bodies are more compact and they look like they are missing half their tail. Also, unlike mice, they are adapted for digging; different species have different tunneling behavior, which can help with identification.

Voles often have several litters per year. Their populations can fluctuate a good deal — meaning that sometimes they’re quite abundant while other times it would take a naturalist’s sharp eye to know they’re even around.

That lovely tracery exposed as the snow melts — vole tunnels! Photo credit: Woodsen.

That lovely tracery exposed as the snow melts — vole tunnels! Photo credit: Woodsen.

Meadow Voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus) are the most abundant vole species found throughout New York and are common in grassy areas including lawns. They are dark brown with a grayish belly and can be 5 inches long.

How do you know if you have meadow voles? Besides actually seeing them (or receiving one in a display of cat love), signs include:

  • runways through the turf, most visible after snow melt
  • girdled woody plants
  • chewed-off herbaceous vegetation
  • ground burrow openings

    After the snow melts, vole damage becomes obvious.

    After the snow melts, vole damage becomes obvious. Photo Credit: USDA Forest Service – North Central Research Station Archive, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org

Pine Voles (Microtus pinetorum) probably live throughout New York except for parts of the North Country, although actual distribution is uncertain. Their preferred habitat is forests with thick ground cover; they like orchards too. They are auburn colored and can be four inches long.

Pine voles are harder to detect as they don’t use surface runways. Their extensive underground tunnel systems lead them to their favorite food source, the roots of woody plants.

MOLES

Once you’ve seen a mole, you’ll have a hard time confusing it with any other animal. Their broad feet, adapted strictly for digging, give them away. Everything about this animal is a clue that it lives underground. Moles have no external ears that can get caught as they move through their tunnels. Their dark, shiny fur has no grain, allowing them to move forwards and backwards with equal ease. And their eyes? You’d practically have to catch a mole to get close enough to see them — they’re that small.

Moles damage is pretty distinct. It involves quite a bit of soil and no entry holes. Photo credit: Kim F

Moles damage is pretty distinct. It involves quite a bit of soil and no entry holes. Photo credit: Kim F

What are they looking for — feeling for — down there? As insectivores, they’re searching mostly for earthworms. But they’re also happy to eat insect larvae, including grubs, and other underground invertebrates. They don’t eat vegetation, although they will line their nests with grass.

Largely solitary, moles are active year-round, day and night. They create grass-lined nests in burrows 1 ½ to 2 feet below the surface often under something solid such as tree roots, sidewalks, and buildings. Litters of 4 or 5 pups are born in the spring. Maturing quickly, the young are independent at about one month old.

What are indications that you have moles? You will find low ridges or mounds of dirt with no entry holes.

An eastern mole's rare glimpse of daylight.

An eastern mole’s rare glimpse of daylight. Photo credit: Kenneth Catania

It is up for debate whether Eastern Moles (Scalopus aquaticus) are found in New York, although it’s possible they’re in the lower Hudson River Valley, the metro New York area, and Long Island. We do know they prefer moist sandy loam soils.  They can be up to 6 ½ inches long with a naked tail.

Hairy-tailed Moles (Parascalops breweri) are found statewide. They can be up to 5 ½ inches long and have a short, hairy tail.

The star-nosed mole is very aptly named. Those appendages contain over 25,000 sensory receptors designed to help it feel its way around.

The star-nosed mole is very aptly named. Those appendages contain over 25,000 sensory receptors designed to help it feel its way around. Photo credit: US NPS

Star-nosed Moles (Condylura cristata) are found throughout much of New York, often occurring in low, wet ground especially near water.  They can be up to 5 inches long, and their most striking characteristic is the fingerlike, fleshy projections surrounding their noses. More than their noses separate them from other mole species. They are more sociable than other moles. They tend to have larger litters. And Star-nosed moles swim! Who knew that those large feet are also good for paddling?

MANAGEMENT

All mole and vole species in New York are legally classified as “unprotected”. For more information on both these mammals, including IPM strategies should voles chew the bark off your ornamental shrubs or moles turn parts of your lawn upside down, visit Cornell’s Wildlife Damage Management Program website.

Adapted from Moles and Voles of New York State by Lynn Braband, NYS Community IPM Program at Cornell University

December 5, 2014
by Joellen Lampman
Comments Off on Dealing With Wildlife and the Laws That Protect Them

Dealing With Wildlife and the Laws That Protect Them

When we think about pests, bugs and mice are the first things that typically come to mind. But what if larger critters such as squirrels, bats, woodchucks, deer, or pigeons become troublesome? IPM works for them too. You must, however, be aware of laws that apply to nuisance wildlife and how they might affect  your IPM plan.

Voles are an example of a non-protected wildlife species. They chew the bark off woody plants and their above ground tunnels can be seen in turfgrass after snow melt. Photo © cyric

Voles are an example of a non-protected wildlife species. They chew the bark off woody plants and their above ground tunnels can be seen in turfgrass after snow melt. Photo © cyric

In New York, the regulatory players involved are the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (all species) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (migratory birds and federally endangered and threatened species). Through these agencies, every wildlife species in the state has a legal classification. What is of upmost concern is determining whether your nuisance is classified as “unprotected” or “protected.”

Legal Classification: Unprotected

Unprotected mammals include shrews, moles, bats (except Indiana bats, which are federally protected), chipmunks, woodchucks, red squirrels, flying squirrels, voles, mice, and Norway rats. Unprotected bird species include rock doves (feral pigeons), house sparrows, and European starlings.

An unprotected species can legally be taken by the property owner at any time of year and by any means as long as other laws (i.e., pesticide regulations, firearm discharge ordinances, trespassing laws, etc.) are not violated. The DEC defines taking as pursuing, shooting, hunting, killing, capturing, trapping, snaring or netting wildlife and game, or performing acts that disturb or worry wildlife.

Some might consider it too cruel to take an animal and decide that capturing your nuisance pest with a live trap is best. Before heading to the hardware store, recognize that you cannot release an animal off your property without a permit. An unprotected animal can be released on the same property where it was captured or must be killed and buried or cremated.

Legal Classification: Protected

Canada geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but there are still things you can do to manage them. Harrassing them, such as with dogs or lasers, does not need a permit. Interfering with their nest, such as addling their eggs, does need a permit. Photo: Joellen Lampman

Canada geese are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, but there are still things you can do to manage them. Harassing them (such as with dogs or lasers) does not need a permit. Interfering with their nest — such as addling their eggs — does need a permit. When in doubt, contact the DEC. Photo: Joellen Lampman

For some protected species, if an individual animal is causing damage (not merely being a nuisance), it can be taken by the property owner. Mammals that fall under this category include opossums, raccoons, weasels, and gray squirrels. (Skunks may legally be taken if they are only a nuisance, even if they are not causing damage.) But the animal, dead or alive, cannot be transported off the landowner’s property without a nuisance wildlife control permit obtained from the DEC.

A few mammals (including bear, beaver, deer, mink, and muskrat), most birds, and (currently) all reptiles and amphibians are not only protected but cannot be captured or removed from the property without special case-by-case permits.

Animals with a legal hunting or fur trapping season can be taken as long as the proper hunting or trapping license has been obtained.

Nuisance Wildlife Control Permits

Nuisance wildlife control permits are issued to people who have gone through the prescribed application process. These permits allow protected species to be taken in any number, at any time, and from any location — with permission of the landowner — within the state. Permits must be renewed annually. Private nuisance wildlife control operators, pest control operators dealing with nuisance wildlife, municipal animal control officers, and some wildlife rehabilitators must obtain the proper permits.

Laws change, so if you have a question concerning the legal status of a species or contemplated action, contact the Wildlife section of the regional office of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

For information on IPM for nuisance wildlife, refer to Beasts Begone!: A Practitioner’s Guide to IPM in Buildings  and Best Practices for Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators.

(Adapted from Legal Framework for Nuisance Wildlife Control in New York State by Lynn Braband, NYS Community IPM Program at Cornell University)

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