There are many types of vole damage you can expect to see if you’ve started finding vole holes in your yard or property. For one, like any other rodent, voles can transmit a lot of dangerous diseases such as Babesiosis, Hantavirus, Salmonella, and others. Additionally, as mammal pests, they often carry with them a whole host of insect pests such as ticks and fleas. And, of course, there is the vole damage to lawn and yard vegetation that’s the most common complaint homeowners have when it comes to voles – destroyed vegetables, ruined lawns, whole trees killed at their roots, and more. In short, voles in the yard is not a pretty thing to encounter. So, how to get rid of voles and what are the main things you should know about them?
In this article:
- Signs of a voles infestation
- Vole identification
- Primary control steps
- Vole control methods and products
- Call an exterminator
Signs of a voles infestation
Voles in the house or other indoor structures are not a common sight so don’t expect to find signs of them there. Unlike mice and rats, voles prefer to stay outdoors at all times. So, all the signs for voles’ presence you should look for will be located in your yard, garden, lawn, or field. Here are the main things to look out for:
- Dead plants. You might be wondering what do voles eat, exactly. Voles prefer to eat plants but they are especially drawn to their roots and stems. This means that you’ll rarely see the bloom or the leaves eaten but instead, the plants will just seem inexplicably dead on the ground.
- Burrows in the ground. Voles are rather small so their burrows and exit tunnels are not that big. If you have high grass and vegetation in your yard you can easily miss them, but if you inspect your yard carefully you will find the voles’ burrows.
- Pitted and rutted soil from collapsed vole tunnels. Vole tunnels tend to run below the surface but close to it. Voles don’t dig too deep into the soil because they generally don’t need to. So, if you’ve had a vole infestation for a while, the soil on the entire property will quickly become pitted and rutted.
- Signs of bite marks on plants, roots, vegetables, etc. As voles prefer the roots and stems of plants, that’s where you’ll have to first check for their bite marks. If you start seeing dead plants, don’t just toss them away, but check them for bite marks first.
- Presence of living and dead voles. If the grass and vegetation in your property are short enough you may spot living voles running around, especially at night. If you start seeing dead voles, however, that’s a surefire sign that you’ve had a vole problem for at least a couple of months.
Seeing a vole indoors is a very rare sight, so if you see a rodent in your home it’s most probably not a vole.
Knowing what exactly you’re dealing with is a crucial part of dealing with any pest and voles are not an exception to this rule. There are lots of rodent pests that may be running in your yard and property and they are all capable of different types of damage, plus a lot of them require slightly different control methods.
So, how do you know if the furry little brown things running in your yard are voles and not anything else? Well, here are a few key things to know about voles:
- Voles have an exceptionally fast reproduction cycle. Young females can get pregnant at just 2 weeks of age and give their first birth when they themselves are 1-month old. This means that voles can overwhelm you faster than most other rodents. That incredible reproduction cycle is why voles are actually among the most common mammal in many countries. For example, here is a research paper listing voles as the most numerous mammal in all of Britain.
- Voles have a very short lifespan too. Some voles can reach 1 year but that’s rare – most die after the first month or live up to 3 – 4 months of age. Some larger vole species like the water vole can live up to 2 or 3 years but that’s rare.
- Physically, voles look like mice but have much shorter tails. They are 4 -5 inches long and they are as quick on their feet as mice.
Differences between the various vole types
There aren’t that many differences between vole species that you’ll need to worry about. Some species like the European water vole or the prairie vole are slightly larger and have a slower reproduction cycle. Additionally, they have some differences in their dietary preferences – woodland voles, for example, prefer tree roots while field voles prefer underground vegetables.
Nevertheless, they are all still omnivores who will eat any plant, worm or grub that they need to when they have to survive.
Voles vs other common pest rodents
The more important question is how to make sure you’re dealing with exactly voles and not with any other rodent. Let’s go over a few key comparisons:
- Difference between mole and vole. The signs for these two rodents are frequently mistaken as they both dig tunnels under the vegetation and disturb the soil. Moles’ tunnels, however, tend to be deeper, larger, and fewer because moles aren’t as numerous but are bigger in size. Additionally, moles are mostly predators and eat insects, grubs, and worms. They can eat roots too but that’s a rarer occurrence. Visually, they are quite different too – moles are black, have minuscule eyes and ears, and an elongated snout.
- Difference between shrew and vole. Shrews look a bit like both mole and voles. They are smaller than moles and brown in color. Their eyes and ears are more easily visible than a mole’s but they too have an elongated snout. More importantly, shrews aren’t that good diggers so they prefer to reuse the tunnels of either moles or voles. Shrews are omnivores and will eat both roots and insects. Unlike moles and voles, they are more likely to wander above ground and maybe even get in your home every once in a while.
- Difference between mouse and vole. Often called “field mice”, voles are very similar to mice in most physical aspects. They are approximately the same size, similar color, and a similar build. They do have shorter tails, but the more important difference between the two is that while mice prefer to stay indoors and raid our food supplies, voles feel most comfortable outdoors – digging tunnels through the soil and destroying our plants. If you notice a mouse-like creature in the grass, it can be a mouse that’s running from point A to point B but it’s most probably a vole.
- Difference between rat and vole. Like mice, rats are mostly indoor creatures, at least when they have a say in the matter. More importantly, however, rats are significantly larger than both mice and voles so the size alone should be enough to help you distinguish between a vole and a rat – voles don’t usually grow beyond 4 or 5 inches while a large black rat can reach 15 inches and more.
Primary control steps – sanitation and physical methods
The best way to get rid of voles and to make sure that they don’t get inside your property anymore is usually the one that doesn’t involve any rodenticides, traps, or other such vole extermination tools. However, more often than not you’ll have to use these control steps in conjunction with some control products and methods. Voles are fast, numerous, partly subterranean, and fearful rodents, so simply using some traps to catch a vole won’t be sufficient. Instead, here are some of the vital control steps you should take as well:
Voles are attracted not only to food sources – which is just about anything that grows – but also to safe environments to nest in. For a vole, the key aspect of a safe environment is high vegetation and an abundance of debris they can hide under. So, maintaining good outdoor sanitation is a great way to both deal with these rodents and prevent them in the first place.
- Remove all weeds. Weeds are generally bad for your yard, property, and other vegetation anyway, but more importantly, they also provide plenty of cover for voles and other pests.
- Remove unwanted plant life. Similarly, there are a lot of other plants in most yards and gardens that aren’t technically weeds but are unnecessary or undesirable anyway. Removing them is a key part of maintaining good outdoor sanitation.
- Remove grubs as they are a vole’s favorite food. Grubs are pests in and of themselves, so dealing with them should be important for any gardener. Additionally, however, they also attract rodents such as voles, which is even more of a problem.
- Trim or remove tree branches and vegetation near the property. When possible, trim or reduce the vegetation around your property to dissuade voles from even approaching it. The more uninterested they are to even come near your property, the better.
- Remove outdoor clutter such as trash, excess building materials, old sheds, unnecessary stones, etc. Like weeds and tall plants, trash clutter and debris are always sought after by voles as they give them great cover to mask their trails.
- Trim the grass in your lawn or yard. Keeping the grass as low to the ground as possible means that voles will have to be completely exposed when they run around which is something they try to avoid at all costs. Not only will this dissuade voles from invading your property, but it will also make it much easier for you to notice them if they do.
Physical control methods
Before moving over to actual commercial methods and products for vole removal, let’s mention that there are a few simple physical methods that can be helpful as well. Again, neither of these is usually enough on their own, but they can both help you deal with a 2-digit percentage of the vole presence right off the bat. So, if you’re looking into how to get rid of voles naturally and fast, these are a good start:
- Flooding vole tunnels. Using one or more garden hoses and cold tap water you can easily flood large portions of the voles’ tunnels if you’ve located some of their exit holes. This can easily cause a lot of the voles on your property to flee as far away as possible. Of course, this isn’t sufficient for a complete vole control because it’s highly unlikely that you’ll manage to fully flood all tunnels. Furthermore, voles like soft and moist soil cause that makes it easier to dig tunnels through, so you’ll have to make sure that you’re safe from subsequent repopulations.
- Stomping or digging up tunnels. Yes, something as simple as stomping the voles out with thick garden boots can also be an effective vole treatment for a significant portion of their population. Voles’ tunnels are close to the surface so you can easily just dig a lot of them up or stomp them down. Make sure you’re using protective gear such as rubber gloves or thick boots, however – voles aren’t typically dangerous but they can bite when they feel threatened.
Vole control methods and products
When it comes to vole control products, the standard two rodent killer methods are both still applicable – traps and poisons. However, both of them are significantly less effective against voles than they are for indoor rodents such as rats or mice. That’s because of a lot of factors such as the fact that not all traps or poisons are usable outdoors, voles spend a lot of their time underground, they have different dietary preferences to mice and rats, and so on. So, while both traps and poisons should still be considered and sometimes used, there is one better vole deterrent that we should mention above them – physical exclusion and fencing.
Of course, as with almost any other pest, utilizing an effective integrated pest control (IPC) method is always advisable – by using several different products and methods you’ll drastically increase the chances of dealing with the infestation successfully. The reason for this is that pretty much any vole killer product or method has its drawbacks when used on its own. Which combination of products and methods you choose will largely depend on your particular circumstances, but exclusion should always be the first and main thing you do.
Exclusion of important vegetation
Typically a prevention method, exclusion and fencing is important at any stage of dealing with voles – to make sure that they don’t get inside your property, to make sure that they don’t continue spreading while you’re combating them, and to make sure that they don’t come back once you’ve successfully driven them away. Exclusion should start the moment you notice the first sign of vole presence. Wherever that sign is, your first impulse should be to check out the soil under and around the most important vegetation on your property (small trees, important flowers, vegetables and crops, and so on).
If there are voles in your yard, chances are that they’ve already attacked these places. If not, you’ll need to fence them immediately. If yes – get them away from the soil around said vegetation and then fence it off. Doing this will both limit the voles’ options while you’re hunting them down and protect your most prized yard vegetation.
It’s important that the fences you use are made out of thick and hard-to-chew metal mesh. We’d recommend a 4-inch galvanized steel mesh for maximum effectiveness. It’s also recommended add a weed-free barrier on the outside of the fence for even better results.
The fences don’t need to be that high as voles are not good climbers but a minimum height of 12 inches is still recommended.
It’s even more important for the fence to reach at least 5 or 6 inches underground if not more – up to 10 inches if possible. Voles typically keep close to the surface but they can dig deeper if they need to. At the same time, however, you don’t want to compromise the root system of the plant or tree, so how deep the fence goes should be done on a case-by-case basis. In all cases, 5 – 6 inches should be the absolute minimal depth as any less than that will likely be ineffective.
Aside from fencing your most important vegetation, it’s also recommended to fence your entire property once the vole infestation has been dealt with. Simply adding the same type, depth, and height of metal mesh on the outside of your yard or lawn can be the most important and effective vole prevention method you’ll ever do. Not to mention that it will also reduce the presence of other pests, rodents or otherwise.
When it comes to traps, voles can be caught in a mouse trap just as easily as a house mouse – after all, they are essentially field mice. However, there are several complicating factors that make even the best vole traps less effective against voles than they are against mice or rats:
- A vole infestation can reach hundreds of rodents before you even find out about them. Because they live outdoors and mostly below the ground level, voles can remain undetected for a long time. And when a vole infestation reaches hundreds of rodents, using several snap traps against them simply won’t be enough – they will work, but you’ll need either dozens of them or a combination of traps and another control method.
- Voles spend a lot of time underground and it’s hard to set traps there. The best thing to do is to locate the exit holes of the voles’ tunnels and set the traps there. That will catch you a few voles at least but it’s not as effective as trapping mice indoors.
- Most voles prefer plant roots and stems. It’s hard to bait a vole to a trap when the animal would rather go to the plant right next to it. Voles are omnivores indeed but they have the instinct to go the plants and vegetation themselves rather than to scavenge for food on the ground or in traps. A vole bait can be either meat or peanut butter, similar to mice and rats’ baits, or it can be things such as bread, oatmeal/butter mix, nuts, and cherry pits, or other similar things. All of these will work but just not as often as we’d like.
Still, don’t take that to mean that traps shouldn’t be used against voles – they are a very good “mopping up” method for after you’ve fenced what needs fencing and you’ve flooded or dug up the voles’ tunnels. Once you’ve done those things and reduced the voles’ numbers to a more manageable amount, traps can be a great tool to finish the infestation off. After all, don’t forget that voles can reproduce extremely fast so leaving even a couple of rodents in your yard alive can be disastrous.
So, with all that in mind, which the best traps to use against voles?
The good old classic snap traps can be almost as effective against voles as they are against mice. They are easy and safe to set outdoors, and they can be easily positioned next to their tunnels’ exits or even inside of them. After all, snap traps operate on a very simple principle – a metal string is set tightly and a piece of bait is positioned on its sensitive trigger plate. Once a rodent or anything else touched the bait and the trigger, the string releases, and snaps at the rodent’s neck. Simple, right? Well, let’s go over the pros and cons of snap traps for voles hunting.
- Snap traps are cheap and easy to set outdoors.
- Voles killed by snap traps are easy to dispose of.
- A good snap trap will be as “humane” for the animal as a kill trap can possibly be – certainly more than most other rodent kill traps.
- Snap traps can be tricky to set up and hurt you if you’re not careful. Always use protective gear (on your hands, in particular) when setting up a snap trap.
- Snap traps can easily be set off by other animals, insects, or the weather conditions outside.
- If you have pets or kids, snap traps can present a danger for their well-being. Don’t use such traps if that’s the case.
If you don’t want a vole killer but you’re instead looking for an option that’s both human and effective, live traps can do the trick. They are usually simple in their design – large metal mesh cages with bait inside and a locking door mechanism that can trap the rodents inside. Additionally, there are live trap models that can catch multiple rodents at once because they are designed with multiple separate exits and chambers. Such a trap can be a great tool if the number of voles on your property is overly high.
- Live traps are human and don’t hurt the animals.
- Some live traps can catch multiple voles at once.
- Live traps can be safe for you, your family and your pets, as long as the pets are large enough to not fit inside.
- With live traps, you’ll still have to dispose of the voles in some way or another.
- Live traps can be easily set off by other animals, insects, or the weather conditions outside.
Other types of traps
If you’ve ever had to combat a mice or rats infestation in your home, you know that there are other types of rodent traps out there too. So, how do they compare with snap or live traps?
- Glue traps are very controversial in general, whether we’re talking about voles or about all rodents. Glue traps are essentially just plastic, cardboard or metal plates with a powerful glue on them that’s meant to get the rodents stuck until you find them and kill them or until they die on their own. Glue traps are often viewed as very barbaric and inhumane, but the fact of the matter is that they work. Against voles, they can be less effective because they’ll have to be set up outdoors. Things such as rain, soil water, or other weather conditions can reduce their effectiveness drastically, but if there is no rain and if you set the traps properly, they can do quite a bit of work. Some glue traps can form “glue tunnels” which can easily be set up at the entrances of voles’ burrows or even inside their own tunnels. This way – especially if it isn’t raining outside – a glue trap can catch multiple voles in a very short amount of time.
- Electric traps are another way to catch rodents. They too are viewed as very inhumane, plus they have the drawback of only being able to catch and kill one rodent at a time. Additionally, they can be complicated to set outdoors as they require electricity. However, if you are certain that there won’t be any rain or you can place the trap underneath a shelter, these traps can be as effective against voles as snap traps.
Vole poisons (rodenticides)
Vole poisons are another controversial topic we should talk about. In terms of effectiveness, the best vole poisons can be as effective against voles as they are against mice and rats. The problem is that many countries and states prohibit the use of a lot of rodenticides and pesticides outdoors. That’s done because such poisons can damage the wildlife and the environment even if we are careful when applying them. Furthermore, since you’ll be using said rodenticides in the soil in your own property, even if it wasn’t forbidden it still won’t always be a good idea.
So, does that mean that you shouldn’t use vole poisons at all? Well, depending on where you live some rodenticides may be allowed for outdoor use. Keep in mind, however, that even if that’s the case, there may be some regulations on how you should use them. Before purchasing or using anything, it’s essential to contact your local government’s environmental department or broader institutions such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. They will be able to inform you of the permitted pesticides and rodenticides you can use on your property, as well as on how exactly you should use them. Even just within the U.S., there are great differences between the states with some state governments allowing some rodenticides while others prohibiting them.
As a rule of thumb, in most states and Western countries, general rodenticides are forbidden for outdoor use and dedicated vole poisons are only sold to professional exterminators. The main difference between basic rodenticides and dedicated vole poisons is that the latter is designed to have a much lower environmental impact. Still, even if such vole poisons are allowed for general use in your area, using them with care is very important.
On the positive side of things, if you can use vole poisons, their main benefit is that they can kill lots of voles with a single application. Where with traps you’ll have to constantly empty and reset them, making them impractical for large infestation, a good vole poison can wipe out hundreds of rodents very quickly. Of course, disposing of the dead animals and cleaning the soil afterward will be a challenge, but the vole problem will be dealt with rather quickly.
Vole bait stations are one of the better ways of using vole poisons outdoors. Bait stations work in a very simple way – they are metal or plastic containers that you put inside the soil and that you fill with a baiting rodenticides. This makes the use of rodenticides much easier and safer because it won’t get mixed with the soil and it will also be relatively safer for pets, kids, and wildlife.
There are two basic types of vole bait stations – ready-to-use or disposable bait stations and refillable bait stations. The difference between the two is rather self-explanatory – ready-to-use bait stations come pre-set with vole poison and need only to be installed in the soil but have to be disposed of once there are empty. Refillable bait stations, on the other hand, need to be filled with whichever poison you’ve chosen to use (and is permitted in your area) and can be refilled once the poison has been depleted. Refillable bait stations are generally better for prolonged control.
Bait stations are best used near the food sources of voles or near their tunnels’ entrance holes. After fencing a flower, a tree or a veggie garden that voles used to feed on, for example, placing bait stations near the fence can be an easy way to attract the voles’ attention. The number of bait stations you’ll want to use will depend on the size of the infestation as well as the size of your property, but the general advice is to use groups of 3 bait stations in an area of 1200 square feet.
Safety concerns of using vole poisons (for humans, pets and other animals)
The main reason vole poisons are so controversial and often banned for residential use is that they can have catastrophic effects on the wildlife near your property, as well as on the soil and vegetation or even your pets and kids. For more information, take a look at what the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PAN) has to say about the effects of pesticides on children. At the end of the day, rodenticides are poison and extreme cautions should be exercised at all times. So, here are the main tips you should keep in mind while handling vole poison or bait stations:
- Position the bait stations in safe locations and in a safe manner. Make sure that there aren’t any subterranean waters or root systems in the places where you’re putting the bait stations as that will drastically increase the risk of contamination. Also, remember to use protective gear such as rubber gloves, eye goggles, and face mask whenever you’re handling pesticides.
- Dispose of the empty vole baits in accordance with the pesticide disposal guidelines in your area. Contact your state’s environmental agency if you need help or guidance. The National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC) offers a good general rundown of the rules for disposing of pesticides.
- Similarly to the problem with disposing of pesticides, the dead voles should also be handled with care. Some rodenticides don’t leave traces in the rodents’ corpses after they are consumed but most do. So, the first vital step will be to find the corpses of the dead voles. Since most voles nest beneath the surface, you’ll need to locate and dig up their nests – most of the dead voles will be there. After that, you’ll have to get rid of their corpses in a safe manner – usually in the same way you’d get rid of leftover pesticides. Again, contact your local environmental agency for guidance. Failing to follow your state’s or countries’ guidelines for pesticide disposal will be both punishable with hefty fines as well as disastrous for the environment.
For a bit of a less toxic subject, let’s discuss vole repellents. They are so low on our list because even the best vole repellent will usually be better suited for prevention rather than infestation control. The fact of the matter is that once an infestation reaches critical mass, it’s exceptionally difficult to contain them with a mere repellent, no matter how strong it is. Nevertheless, vole repellents do have their place in a homeowner’s arsenal both for prevention and for partial control.
There are multiple commercial products out there that are advertised as vole repellents or rodent repellents. A lot of them are not effective enough to be worth mentioning but there are a few products that you can use to a good effect:
- Castor oil. Keep in mind that there is a difference between deodorized medicinal castor oil the odorous castor oil that is useful against voles.
- Ropel liquid. This is a rather toxic repellent so it shouldn’t be used on or near food crops. However, as long as its safety instructions are followed to the letter, Ropel liquid can be an effective vole repellent.
Natural repellents or homemade repellents
Aside from commercial vole repellents, there are lots of plants and homemade repellents that can also be more or less effective. Again, most of them – especially the plants – are better suited for prevention but also won’t hurt your control efforts.
- Marigolds, Lenten rose, Salvia, Crown imperial, Daffodils, Snowdrops, Trout Lily, Irises, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Scylla, and some other garden plants. Some of these have a strong odor that repels voles while others are just not delicious to them and so they avoid them. Either way, planting such plants near the edges of your property or around precious vegetation can have a positive effect on your vole problems.
- Castor bean plants. This plant, in particular, is so rich on ricin that it’s an excellent vole repellent. It could be a problem if you have pets or kids, however.
- Rags soaked in ammonia and soap. Simply laying and burying such rags near and around the voles’ food targets is a good way to dissuade them from eating your favorite vegetation. This is a good trick to use around the fencing you’ve just placed near said food targets and while you’re trying to exterminate the rodents with other means.
Introducing natural vole predators in their environment
Last but not least, having a couple of yard cats or scent hounds that love to dig up and hunt rodent prey is a good way to keep your yard clear of these pesky rodents. If you’re already facing a full-blown infestation this may not be good enough as you’ll need a dozen cats or hounds, but for smaller and newer infestations, or just for prevention, having a couple of such yard pets together with good fencing can be quite good.
Most cat breeds can be effective for something like this while for hounds you’d do best to take some of the following breeds: Basset hound, German Shorthaired Pointer, Dachshund, Springer Spaniel, Beagle, Coonhound, Bloodhound, Harrier, Basset Griffon, or other scent hound breeds.
Of course, voles have a lot of other wildlife predators which is why they have such a fast reproduction cycle and short lifespans. However, it’s not really practical to introduce owls, foxes, snakes or coyotes in your property. In fact, voles are a problem even just for the fact that they can attract such predators to your property.
Things that don’t work for immediate and effective vole control
There are lots of other methods and products that you might read about online. We won’t say that they are never effective, but most of them are just not effective enough to be worth considering. Here are the main offenders:
- Ultrasonic repellents. We’ve harped quite a bit on ultrasonic repellent on this site and for good reasons. Credit where credit is due, however – they are more effective against voles than they are against house mice or rats. Nevertheless, we’d still wouldn’t recommend them over any of the products or methods we’ve listed above. Wasting your time with an ultrasonic repellent will just give time for the vole infestation to grow even more.
- Mothballs in the soil. No, just no. People overuse mothballs to a ridiculous degree. Can certain mothballs have a repelling effect on voles? Sure. But they are not as effective as other repellents and they are often harmful to the soil, as well as your pets and kids.
- Coyote urine or kitty litter. These silly-sounding methods can actually be more effective against voles than they are against mice or rats. However, they are not strong enough to be worth it.
Call an exterminator
Usually, the last resort when dealing with some pests, exterminators are unfortunately very often needed for voles. For one, because in a lot of states and areas vole poisons are forbidden for residential use, you’ll have no choice but to call an exterminator when facing a large infestation. Furthermore, even if you’re allowed to use rodenticides in your yard or property, if the infestation is severe enough, calling an exterminator will still probably be worth it.
Yes, exterminators can be quite pricey, but so is the process of dealing with several hundreds of these little rodents. If you don’t want to be held hostage by voles for months at a time, calling a professional exterminator can solve the problem in a matter of days. Furthermore, with the help of a professional, you’ll be able to much more easily and effective set up proper prevention methods to ensure that you’ll never have vole problems again.
Despite looking so much lime mice, voles actually present multiple difficulties to homeowners and dealing with them can be quite challenging. In most cases, good exclusion and fencing is the best thing you can do to prevent voles in the first place or to help protect your property’s most important vegetation while you’re combating the pests. Natural vole repelling plants are also a very good prevention method.
As far as immediate control is concerned, there are a couple of physical methods you can try such as flooding or digging up their tunnels, but you’ll likely have to fall back to rodent traps or rodenticide bait stations at some point. And since the former are hard to use against large infestations and the latter are restricted in certain states or countries, calling a professional exterminator may very well be a good idea sooner rather than later.