The Differences Between Voles and Other Rodents

Often called “field mice”, voles are small outdoorsy rodents that really do resemble mice in a lot of ways, particularly in term of their physical appearance. They are drastically different in their behavior, diet, habitat, and the type of damage they can cause you and your property. In those regards, voles can be more easily confused with moles or shrews, as all of these rodents are outdoor animals that tend to live in underground tunnels in your yard or garden.

It’s very common for homeowners and farmers to refer to any mole, shrew or vole they see on their property as “a mole” as this is the most popular species of the three. However, it’s actually voles that are the more common pest, as well as the more dangerous problem for your garden’s vegetation.

Differentiating between these three pests, as well as between voles and indoor rodents such as mice and rats is quite important. Knowing what you’re dealing with will prepare for the type of property damage you can expect as well as for the type of precautions and control methods you should use.

What other rodents can voles be mistaken with?

There are hundreds of different rodent species, but here we’ll compare voles with the most frequent and most significant offenders you should be wary of.

Voles vs moles

mole in the dirt

Ondrej Prosicky/

The difference between mole and vole species is easily defined but also very important. Both moles and voles love to dig through your yard or garden, however, moles almost never go to the surface and spend most of their time underground, eating earthworms, grubs, beetles, as well as other animals and rarely – roots and seeds. Moles don’t really intend to damage your garden or vegetation. In fact, in some regards governmental and environmental institutions even consider them beneficial as they prey on a lot of pest species. However, they are also still considered pests because they tend to ruin the soil and the vegetation in it with their digging and their tunnels.

Voles, on the other hand, also dig extensive tunnel systems, but they go to the surface more often to eat the stems and tubers of your grass, flowers, and vegetables. While voles look like smaller mice with short tails, moles are black, have elongated pink snouts, large front feet for digging, and almost indistinguishable small ears and eyes.

The difference between mole vs vole tunnels is that mole tunnels are much wider and bigger, while vole tunnels get much more numerous, especially once the vole population grows out of proportion. Mole droppings are larger than vole ones but are harder to spot because they remain mostly underground.

Voles vs shrews

Shrew in it's natural habitat

Rudmer Zwerver/

You can easily view shrews as being in the middle between voles and moles. Shrews are smaller than moles, brownish in color, and don’t have their enlarged front feet. On the other hand, they too have long snouts and small ears and eyes, and they also spend most of their time underground. Shrews are not as good diggers as voles and moles, however, and they much prefer to populate the abandoned tunnels and nest of the other two. They prefer to dig through the soil only when it’s especially loose and rare.

Shrews are omnivores and can eat both insects, earthworms, slugs, and animals, as well as roots and seeds. Unlike voles and moles which are almost never seen indoors, shrews are known to sometimes invade garages, warehouses or homes in search for food. However, they never nest there. Shrews’ droppings are as small and hard to notice as voles’ and they too can often be found above ground.

Voles vs mice

mouse in the forest

Rudmer Zwerver/

Voles look so much like mice that the average homeowner can be excused for mistaking the two. In terms of size, color, and general appearance, voles and mice look very much alike, so much so that voles are often called “field mice” or “meadow mice”. After all, they are closely-related rodents. Voles have a slightly heavier build, however, especially in the autumn and winter months while mice are leaner and more “athletic”. Also, voles have much shorter tails where mice’s tails can reach their body’s length.

More importantly, the two species have very different habitats. Where voles prefer to stay out in the open, digging their tunnels and consuming your plants and vegetables, mice prefer to be indoors where they like the heat, abundant food sources, and protection against natural predators. So, if you see a mouse-like rodent running through your garden, don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s just a mouse and laying a few traps in your home – instead, it may very well be one of many voles, digging through your yard day and night.

Voles vs rats

rat in the grass


Similarly to mice, rats can resemble voles in many physical ways – the color of the coat, general body build, and so on. Just like rats are bigger than mice, however, they are also bigger than voles. The typical vole is 4 or 5 inches long, where an adult black rat can reach 15 inches and more. Also, just like mice, rats would much rather stay indoors where it’s warm and safe. They love to populate garages, warehouses, basements, attics, and homes, and they are not really fond of digging.

It’s very much possible to find a rat outdoors, of course, but if you do it will be while he’s in transit from point A to point B, where voles prefer being outside and rarely even think of invading your home. Vole droppings can be found all throughout your yard or garden usually indistinguishable from dirt in the tall vegetation, while rat droppings are usually found indoors, near their food and water sources, or near their nests.


Voles are quite similar to other rodents in many aspects but they are also significantly different from most of them. And when we consider the amount of property damage they can cause to our garden or lawn, as well as how extraordinarily fast they can reproduce, knowing that you’re dealing with voles as soon as possible is quite important.


Mary Rittberger

We have cats and dogs on our vole infested yard, so we are concerned what might be a safe method of exterminating the voles. Do the solar “sticks” that emit a sound that, supposedly the varmints don’t like, work? Is there one brand that seems most effective? Thanks for your help.


    Although the ultrasonic repellents can provide some relief from voles, they aren’t really an efficient way how to exterminate voles. For things that will help keep voles out your yard, please, check out our article on how to get rid of voles.

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