The Q&A Archives: Moles or gophers?

Question: Little piles of soil (6 to 8 inches in diameter)are appearing all over my backyard. How do I identify the culprit, and what do I do to stop the damage to my lawn?

Answer: Sometimes it's difficult to figure out just which critter is making those mounds because both are rarely seen. But, here are some clues:
Moles kill plants by creating shallow underground air pockets, which make roots dry out, he said. In contrast, pocket gophers not only tunnel but also eat seeds, roots and succulent green plant parts.

Both of the burrowers are small and rarely glimpsed. Both have large front feet with large claws.

Moles appear to have no ears. Except for that, however, they are similar to brown-gray meadow mice in both size and appearance ? including a pointy nose.

Brown-to-white pocket gophers are 9 to 12 inches long and weigh just 7 to 14 ounces. They?re known for the food-carrying ?pockets? in their cheeks and have buck teeth that are always visible.

Because they?re elusive, however, these animals often force homeowners to identify which is making a pest of itself by looking for other signs:

Moles create noticeable surface tunnels that will collapse underfoot. Plus, they create deeper tunnels than may make strips of ground feel spongy. Occasionally, they also create volcano-shaped mounds of coarse soil and clods (which usually connect to their ?home base). Moles always are active whenever they can find unfrozen soil and food. During breeding season, however, they can really tear up lawns, as they try to eat enough ?creepy crawlers? to equal about one-half of their body weight every day.

Pocket gophers do not construct noticeable surface tunnels. Since their upper tunnels can be 5 to 8 inches under the soil surface, however, they also may make strips of soil feel spongy. But gophers create LOTS of fan- or horseshoe-shaped mounds with finely sifted soil. In fact, the mound-building of one gopher can bring 2.5 tons of soil to the surface every year.

Sometimes homeowners gain effective control of these animals by using smoke bombs and similar products. Unfortunately, mole tunnels tend to be shallow, so gases can easily escape through the soil. And, when gophers detect a gas, they often will plug their tunnels. For much the same reasons, flooding only works if you are lucky.

Trapping is a very effective means of reducing gopher problems. You will need at least two traps. Macabee or Victor Easy Set spring traps are recommended. Instructions are include with the trap and must be followed explicitly. Box-type traps are more difficult to use. Locate one of the main burrows and excavate an area near the lateral tunnel. Place two traps, each facing in opposite directions, in the burrow. Wear gloves while doing this and take care not to contaminate the traps with human scent. Attach twine to each trap and run the twine out of the burrow and attach the opposite end to a stake. This will prevent the gopher from dragging the trap further into the burrow. Take care to cover the hole you excavated to place the traps so all light is excluded. If you don't exclude all light, the gopher will attempt to push soil toward the opening and may trip the traps without being caught. If the trap fails to catch a gopher after 2-3 days, move the trap to another location.

Best wishes with your project!

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