Garden Guides, How to Identify Shrews, Moles & Voles

How to Identify Shrews, Moles & Voles

21 September, 2017

At first glance, shrews, moles and voles look nearly identical to one another, but you’ll see that they have distinct differences when you take a closer look. Voles (Microtus genus) are also called meadow or field mice and are rodents, while shrews (Soricidae family) and moles (Talpidae family) belong to the Insectivora order, which includes mammals that eat insects. You may see moles, voles or shrews in and around your house or garden, but you’ll need to identify them correctly to know if you need to deal with them, and how.

Identify the shrew, mole or vole by its size. Shrews are small and mouse-sized, while moles are larger, with bodies about 6½ to 7 inches long (not including the tail). Voles have compact, stocky bodies and are usually 5 to 7 inches long from the tip of the nose to the end of the tail.

Study the fur. Shrews have dense fur that’s a uniform color, not multicolored like mice. Voles usually have gray or brown fur, with dense under-fur and longer, thicker guard hairs.

Look at the snout. Shrews have long, narrow skulls with distinct, elongated snouts. Moles have a hairless, pointed snout that extends nearly a half-inch beyond their mouths. Voles, on the other hand, don’t have elongated snouts.

Identify the shrew, mole or vole by its eyes. Moles have very small eyes, which are concealed by fur. Voles have larger eyes than moles and shrews, but the eyes are still small and partially hidden by fur. Shrews have small eyes that are not concealed by its fur.

Study the feet. Shrews have five clawed toes on each foot. Voles have short legs and small, delicate feet and forefeet with only four toes, like other rodents. Moles have very large, broad forefeet with webbed toes, as well as hindfeet that are small and narrow with slender, sharp claws.

Look at the tail. Shrews have long tails that can be nearly the same length as their bodies, while moles have 1¼-inch-long tails. Voles have stubby tails that are the shortest of the three.

You can also identify a shrew, mole or vole by what it’s eating. Both moles and shrews are insectivores, eating beetles, grasshoppers, wasps, crickets, spiders, earthworms and other insects and their larvae. Voles, however, feed on plants and only occasionally eat insects, snails and animal remains.

Don’t confuse shrews with moles. Shrews have small teeth that are sharp and dark-tipped, while moles don’t have these distinct, dark-tipped teeth. Also, moles tunnel and live underground, and are rarely seen, while shrews live above ground.

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Voles, Moles, Mice & Shrews – How to Control Them in the Garden

If you’ve gardened any length of time you’ve probably encountered one or all of these garden pests. Voles, moles, mice or shrews – they’re not pleasant to deal with but you CAN do it. I’ve been waging war successfully with them for 35 years. So I feel pretty qualified to give you the best battle strategies.

Did you notice that I said “waging war successfully for 33 years” ? One of your best defenses right up front will be to know and accept the realities that exist.

Main Reality

The main reality — and the hardest one for many to accept — is that doing any one thing – no matter what it is — will not rid you of the problem forever. What you want to accomplish – and can accomplish — is control and balance.

Once the problem is under control and no damage is being done you still have to be aware, watch and then take action again if you see any telltale signs.

The attitude resulting from knowing what the reality is, accepting it and being committed to taking action when necessary, will greatly relief the frustration that can be generated from situations with these pests.

Poisons

If you are a regular reader of TMG you know already that my control recommendation does not include poisons. In this age of chemicals and short term gratification there are many (probably the majority) who will tell you that poisoning is the only solution. And they will say “—- especially for a major infestation.”

I know from experience that is untrue. You need not waiver in your commitment to refrain from using poisons. Poisons are dangerous from beginning to end. The poison you use to poison the pest could end up poisoning other animals as well. Could also end up in your garden and contaminating your food.

The Most Effective Means of Controlling These Pests

Trapping to kill (not trap and release) is the most effective means of control for any of these garden pests and with persistence you can win against even major infestations. I know because in the past I’ve had to do it.

In searching the internet you will come across all kinds of methods used against these pests. You won’t often see the trapping method. But it’s the only one that will guarantee your success.

Not Pleasant – But You CAN Do It

Never handle any of these creatures. They carry some nasty bacteria. Use gloves. Take the trap(s) with the dead varmint out of the garden. Dig a hole with your trowel or digger. Loosen the trap with your tool. Put the carcass in the hole. Put the dirt on top. Firm the ground with your foot.

Dealing with this type of problem is never pleasant — but dig deep inside yourself —- you’re made of tougher stuff than you think. And you can do this. Once the problem is controlled you’ll only have to set the occasional few traps. By then – piece of cake! (Well – maybe not quite — but you get the idea.)

Misidentification

Gardeners encountering one or all of these creatures for the first time, usually refer to all of them as moles. You may not know the difference either — but you need to — because your battle strategy will vary with each.

Voles

Most people – myself included — feel that voles are by far the worse of these creatures and responsible for most of the damage that new gardeners might attribute to moles or mice.

  • Identification – They’re mouse like. Their faces are not quite as pointed. Sometimes grey, sometimes light brown or dark brown. For pictures do a Google search for “pictures of garden voles”.
  • What They Eat – They are omnivores, and will eat anything. But they tend to like plants much better. They have favorite things that they can’t resist like all your tulip bulbs, asiatic lilies and hostas.
  • Damage They Do – whatever they take a liking to they can wipe out quickly. Onions, lettuce, radishes, beets, squash, tomatoes, cukes — anything. They love potatoes and every year I end up with some loss to voles. Their tunnels and their chewing on roots can undermine any garden plants – even the largest.
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Real life example: One of the first onion beds I ever had was beautiful. I started to pull an onion one day —- and you can imagine my surprise when it was literally pulled out of my hand. The stalk was pulled down the hole where the onion had been. Until that day, I thought that only happened in Bugs Bunny cartoons.

  • Other Habits of Voles – They are active both day and night but spend about 80% of their life underground. They can breed all year — but March through September is the time most of it takes place. Average litter is 4 to 6 and gestation is only 21 days! Any females birthed are ready to mate within 28 days!
  • Some years won’t be as bad as others. Fortunately their population has lows and peaks in a cycle of about 3 to 5 years.
  • The most effective method of control is trapping.

How to Trap Voles

Use regular Victor Mouse Trap 2 pack M023 mouse traps. Use peanut butter or apple for bait. (You can also use peanut butter rolled with oats.) If you use apple, you’ll have to tie it on. Otherwise, you’ll probably lose the bait and vole.

  • When you see holes (tunnel exits) that indicate their presence, place the trap at the hole.
  • Depending on the positioning of the hole you might have to pull away some soil to make a flat surface for the trap. Remove as much earth as you have to in order to set the trap properly.
  • Turn a large plastic flower pot or bucket upside down and place it over the trap and hole so they’re in the dark. (Voles are said to only take the bait in the dark.)
  • Then place a brick or rock on top of the pot or bucket to keep it from being knocked over by the wind or whatever.
  • Many times you can catch one, two or several very quickly (within a few hours) depending on how many voles are living in that particular tunnel. Other times you might get one a day. Sometimes, you have to leave the trap for a few days. (Remember they use lots of holes.) If you don’t get anything after 3 days — stir up the soil so the tunnels collapse. If the area is active, they will resurface at another spot so you can set the trap again.

In the growing season especially, exit holes can be concealed by a plant or mulch. Just take time to look. You’ll find them.

In the winter they’re easier to find — and will more than likely show up in your cold frames or under your hoop tunnels —- usually right beside your best lettuce plant.

For maintenance trapping I usually set 3 traps. If I notice a lot of damage I sometimes set as many as 6 traps. If you have a major infestation, you can set 12 or 24 traps.

But REMEMBER: watching and resetting 3 traps consistently is better than setting 24 and then not being consistent with the duties involved.

Moles

  • Identification – Moles have large webbed feet for tunneling. For pictures – do Google search for “pictures of garden mole”.
  • What They Eat – They are carnivores and eat grubs and earthworms and some other insects, NOT plants. They need ground that is heavily populated with insect food like grubs since they need a lot to sustain them.
  • How They Can Effect Plants – Their tunneling activity can disrupt plants in your garden and borders and separate the plant roots from the soil. Without root to soil contact, the plant can die.
  • Damage They Do – When they tunnel through the earth close to the surface the soil directly above them mounds up. Sometimes the long veins of mounded dirt are very noticeable. At other times, you don’t notice them until stepping on them and sinking in a bit.

Occasionally there is hole where the mole surfaces. (Voles can use these tunnels too.)

You might even see an area anywhere from 3 x 3 feet up to 6 x 6 feet that is mounded with dirt and sinks when you walk on it. I use to think this was where all the mole tunnels met. I read recently that someone considered it a feeding area. Whatever the case — it makes an ugly site in your lawn.

  • The most effective method of mole control is trapping. Amazon sells Name Your Link mole traps for a little more than $10. Place the traps in one of the long veins described above. It will come with instructions.

We used a trap Nash Choker Loop Mole Trap like this several years ago when damage became extensive. One of the moles we caught was as big as a small squirrel! Guess we caught the great-granddaddy of them all. Haven’t had much noticeable damage since then until the past few months. The trap has been set several times but they keep springing it. Can take some patience to catch them.

Be careful with these traps. We don’t even like to use them for fear that we’ll step on one. The trap is inserted partially into the tunnel. The top stays above ground, but can visually blend into the area. You could easily miss seeing it if you’re not thinking about it. I’d hate to think of what it would do to my foot!

Sometime back a TMG reader wrote and said

  • “Last summer I had a terrible problem with mice eating my plants in my garden. I would not have believed it, if I had not seen it myself. I came out to my garden about mid day and found a mouse gnawing on my pepper plants. “

In 35 years I have only caught one mouse in my garden, but as you can see from this readers experience — it can happen. Thus, I have included them here.

  • Identification – Probably most everyone knows what a mouse looks like. If not, Google “pictures of mice”.
  • What They Eat – They’re omnivorous, meaning: they will eat just about anything.
  • What They Do – As they go about eating what’s yours, they can spread disease by contaminating food and water with their urine and droppings. Also disease can be spread by the parasites mice carry which bite the mouse and then bite a human or pet.
  • Two Can Become Many in a Hurry – They can have an average litter of 6 to 8 young. One female can have up to 10 liters per year and they can breed when they are as young as five weeks old! If you let them breed you could be overrun with mice in a short period of time.
  • The most effective method of control is trapping.

But — you need to employ other common sense practices in addition to trapping to make sure they don’t return in numbers. Some are:

  • Keep pet areas clean.
  • Dog food and cat food that is left out all the time invites mice and RATS.
  • Do not use any animal products in your compost pile. This too will invite mice and RATS.
  • Make sure grain or seed is stored in containers that can not be chewed into by mice.
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To further elaborate on trapping here is part of my reply to the young woman who asked what to do about the mice in her garden.

“— I would buy 2 dozen Victor Mouse Trap 2 pack M023 mouse traps. Bait them with either peanut butter or apple. In this case try using peanut butter first, since it will make it so much easier to bait the traps. (You have to use string to tie a piece of apple on —–and that gets to be a job especially if you have a lot of traps.)

Check the traps at least 2 or 3 times a day if you can. More if possible. (Especially morning and dusk.)

Keep at it, because diligence will be your best strength in this situation. It might not be just what you want to be doing, but it will get the numbers down. And save your vegetables for you rather than mice, voles or whatever.

After that —- keep an eye out for any tell tale signs and take action again the minute anything indicates a possible problem.”

Shrews

  • Identification – Mouse-like but with an even more pointed face. For pictures Google: “short tailed shrew”.
  • What They Eat – Worms and insects.
  • What They Do – They can undermine your plantings and be a nuisance.
  • Control – I usually catch shrews when I’ve set traps for voles. Even though my traps are set with peanut butter or apple — not probably to the liking of a creature that eats insects – they stumble into the trap. I’m always surprised when it was a shrew doing the damage rather than a vole. I reset the trap and can end up having several more stumble into it.

Final Thoughts

I trap voles and shrews mainly in the winter time when it’s easier to see their openings. By getting the numbers down now — I won’t have to bother as much in harvest season.

Trapping will guarantee your success in winning the war against these varmints.

Organic gardening is easy, effective, efficient —- and it’s a lot healthier.

tendingmygarden.com

How to Identify Shrews, Moles & Voles

Active 24/7, voles like to live in dense vegetation.

David De Lossy/Valueline/Getty Images

Related Articles

Whether a little mouse-like creature startled you by scurrying through your yard or you found evidence of tunneling, learning to identify moles, shrews and voles is the first step in dealing with these troublesome critters. Of the seven North American species of moles – insectivores related to bats and shrews – four are found west of the Rockies. Thirty species of shrews – surviving on insects such as butterflies, wasps and crickets — live throughout the country. The strictist of vegetarians, voles are found in nearly every part of the United States. With sleuthing and some careful observation, you can learn to tell these three apart.

Inspect your yard and garden for signs of infestation from these three creatures. Although you are not likely to see moles, they leave tell-tale volcano-shaped mounds 2 to 24 inches tall at the entrance to their burrows, and tunnel tracks beneath your yard and garden. Shrews typically live in tunnels dug by moles and other mammals – you will need other ways to recognize them. Voles are best identified by the small trails they create leading from one burrow entrance to another.

Familiarize yourself with typical sizes. Moles are the largest of the bunch, averaging 7 inches from tip to the end of a 1-inch hairless tail. Shrews are some of the smallest mammals in the world: mouse-sized and averaging just under 4 inches, excluding a 1-inch tail. Voles are usually more than 4 inches long, with longer 1 1/2-inch, furry tails.

Look closely at fur coloring. Moles have thick, velvety fur ranging from gray to black. Shrew fur is short, soft and grayish. Voles are covered with coarse, short fur that is black-brown to gray-brown.

Study the general appearance of moles, shrews and voles when you see them. Known for prominent front feet used for digging, moles also have elongated, hairless snouts. Their eyes and ears are both hidden by fur. Shrews also have long, pointed snouts, but their eyes and ears are both visible. Voles’ rounded snouts are almost blunt, and their bodies are chunky. Their ears and eyes are both exposed.

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How to Get Rid of Shrews

If you are interested in how to get rid of shrews, we’ll be discussing some very practical ones in this guide.

Shrews look similar to rodents but aren’t. They are easily identified by their long snouts.

Having them around your home can be unsettling. This is because of the damage to vegetation, especially trees and shrubs.

Finding a solution to this problem can be challenging, especially when you have little or no knowledge of how to control shrews.

Luckily for you, the information provided here should help you keep your home free of shrews.

Information About Shrews

Shrews have a hell of an appetite. They can consume food 3 times their body weight in a day. This is due to their active nature.

In addition to that, they have a high metabolic rate. This makes them feed at all times of the day.

These mammals aren’t bad to have around though. This is because they feed or prey on a variety of pests, especially insect pests.

The downside with having these around is the damage caused to vegetation. They are also venomous. Which is reason enough to keep them at a healthy distance. It may interest you to know that shrews can starve if left without food for half a day! Their high metabolic rate can be used against them as you’d find shortly.

How to Get Rid of Shrews in the Yard, Garden, and Garage

Shrews can be gotten rid of using a range of methods. This fact makes it even easier for anyone facing an infestation.

If you do, the following shrew removal strategies should prove helpful. In this section, we would provide you many effective ways to address the problem.

We are confident you’d find these quite useful in your quest for a lasting solution to your shrew problem.

Eliminate Hiding Spots from Your Surroundings

Shrews love environments that provide abundant shelter and cover. Yards with overgrown bushes and shrubs provide abundant covering. These will need to be cleared and removed to expose their nesting areas.

Debris, leaves, and piles of wood also provide shrews with hiding spots. You’ll need to clear your yard regularly to make it unwelcoming.

Piles of wood should be placed as far as possible from your vicinity.

Live Shrew Traps

Live traps should be considered if you wish to adopt humane strategies. These traps come in different sizes Which brings us to the types of traps available.

Different types of traps can be used on shrews. But those selected should be small (spacing between the cage) enough to stop shrews from escaping. Recall that we mentioned that shrews are mostly small in size.

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Traps should be placed in areas where shrew activity is most visible. One safety measure you must never forget is to try as much as possible to avoid direct contact.

Remember we told you that shrews are venomous? As such, try to avoid bites completely. Only purchase traps that guarantee zero human contact with shrews.

Some good shrew traps include;

i. NoMol Mole Trap

Though it’s called a mole trap, it has been used with great success on shrews. Due to its design for outdoor use, it is made with rust-free material. It comes with every use instruction needed. It is easy to set too. Its trigger mechanism must be adjusted to open help spread open the trap. This should then be placed along paths or tunnel openings used by shrews.

This trap must also be disguised to make it blend in with the environment. It can be disguised using brushes, leaves or grass. Check every day to see if it has caught any shrews. If not, try changing its location or get more of it to place at several locations.

ii. Havahart Live Animal Traps

This product is used on a variety of small rodents.

It also works perfectly on shrews. Its 2 doors are gravity controlled and are activated when stepped upon. It is designed to be humane, and as such has smooth sides that shrews slide in without being injured in the process.

This product has been made with long-lasting material to make it last.

It comes cheap too and is very affordable. You only need to find the areas of your home having the most shrew activity. This trap is placed along such paths and a bait placed at the top. These traps come detailed instructions as to how they should be set. Always check at least twice a day to see if any shrews have been trapped.

So many other shrew traps are available. These are just 2 of several. If you can’t find any of these in hardware stores, be sure that other alternatives will be available.

Mow your Lawns as Frequent as Necessary

Overgrown lawn and shrubs provide perfect hiding spots for shrews. The same applies to brushes and low-hanging tree branches. Thus, you must pay close attention to your surroundings.

Maintaining your lawn and keeping it short will make your surroundings less inviting. Shrews don’t find the perfect covering they seek to nest around.

Such exposed surroundings also make it easy to be spotted by predators. They will have to find more suitable environments when your home offers none.

Eliminate Secondary Food Sources

Shrews possess voracious appetites. This means they must find food to eat frequently.

You can make your surroundings even less inviting by removing all secondary food sources. These are targeted when they can’t find their usual delicacies. ‘So, to begin, your pet food should be moved indoors.

Try as much as you can to feed pets indoors. But if you must feed them outside, always clean up feeding areas after each feeding session. You will be making food scarce. Food is all they ever need. So, its absence will impact directly on their presence.

Apply Predator Urine

While shrews prey on other creatures, they aren’t left out of the equation either. In other words, other predators feed on shrews. Shrews have a strong sense of smell. This alerts them to the presence of food as well as predators.

By applying or treating your surroundings with predator urine, you are sending a signal to them. This signal alerts them to nearby danger.

You should notice an almost immediate drop in their activities as well as presence. Although predator urine is effective, it must be applied frequently, especially during the rainy season. This is because it is washed off whenever it rains.

Introduce Actual Predators

The application of predator urine was meant to scare shrews into thinking that such predators were around.

While this is effective, you can escalate the situation by introducing real predators. Shrew predators are almost endless. And this includes your pets. Dogs and cats are predators that will prove useful.

These pets will patrol your yard and surroundings effectively when released. For shrews, this is a situation they would rather avoid. What more? These mammals (shrews) are territorial.

In other words, they want to be the only occupants of their immediate surroundings. This makes them feel unsafe, thereby pushing them to seek safer locations.

Watering Your Garden Should be Regulated

Gardens and lawns need to be watered. But you must apply just the right amount of water. This shouldn’t be done excessively as it attracts insect pests. These pests are irresistible to shrews and attract them. Excess water also provides shrews with the needed moisture their bodies need for metabolism.

In the absence of such conditions, shrews will hardly thrive within your environment. You may also want to remove low-lying and stagnant water around.

By taking such actions, you will be directly impacting your surroundings to become less inviting.

Treat Your Garden for Bugs

Insects are bound to be found in outdoor environments. But these can be controlled using either natural or chemical measures.

We recommend treating your garden of grubs and insects whenever they appear to be increasing. Shrews rely on these to survive. Their voracious appetite won’t be satisfied when there are fewer insects to feed on.

Shrew Repellents

If you’ve wondered if there are repellents for shrews, the answer is certainly yes! Lots of repellent products and poisons have been developed to combat shrew presence. Most of these also work on rodents. So, while treating a shrew problem, you’d also be getting rid of rodents.

We recommend that you go for repellents that are non-toxic and environmentally safe. Consider that your pets may stroll around and will certainly pick up things including killing shrews.

Environmentally safe and non-toxic shrew repellents. These may come in granule or liquid form. Whatever it is, apply as instructed and see your shrew problem vanish.

Shrews are unable to withstand its smell and have to avoid affected areas.

Vibrating Repellents

These are electronic repellents that are driven into the ground. They scare away shrews by the vibrations they make.

Get as many of these to cover affected areas. Shrews dislike external disturbances and are scared by such vibrations. You won’t spend a fortune applying this strategy as they are considerably pocket-friendly.

These are some of the ways to get rid of shrews. You don’t have to tolerate the problem as it may become worse.

Choose any of the above to reclaim full control of your surroundings. You will also be saving yourself and your family as well as pets from venomous shrew bites.

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