FAQ About Gophers & Moles

FAQs About Gophers & Moles

  1. What else could it be if it is not a mole or gopher?
  2. How do I know if I have a mole?
  3. How do I know if I have a gopher?
  4. Where do moles live?
  5. Where do gophers live?
  6. Where can I see a mole?
  7. When is the best time to trap?
  8. What do moles eat?
  9. What do gophers eat?
  10. I’ve heard that moles and gophers are antisocial. Is that true and how does that effect trapping?

What else could it be if it is not a mole or gopher? It is an absolutely necessary to identify the kind of animal causing damage before your purchase our products. We only recommend using our products for mole and gopher control. In addition, trap size and trapping methods differ for moles and gophers. Please take the time to read the information we have gathered to help you trap your mole and gopher. You can learn to identify your pest by the surface damage it is creating. The vole (field mouse) and ground squirrel are also burrowing animals and sometimes can be confused with the mole and gopher, but the tunneling activity is much different. Both voles and ground squirrels leave their tunnels open tunnel, whereas moles and gophers always plug their tunnels. The ground squirrel tunnel is a wide and open, about a 3-4 inches diameter, usually with a large pile of dirt at the opening. There may be multiple open tunnels close to the main entrance. Generally, squirrels will burrow at the base of trees, rock piles and the edge of brush. Squirrels hibernate during the coldest part of the winter. Moles and gophers do not hibernate and always plug up their tunnels. You can read more about ground squirrels at the UC Davis website.

Voles have taken over abondoned gopher tunnels
Vole damage to lawn
More vole damage to lawn
Polished opening of vole tunnel
Click on photos to enlarge.

Voles, also known as field mice, are common pests in lawns and gardens and can easily be confused with a gopher because of the obvious damage to plants. The key to identifying a vole is by the multiple open tunnels that are about the diameter of a golf ball. The area around the opening is very clean and polished. There will also be evidence on the surface of beaten down pathways through the grass. Voles do not have the proper teeth and claws to excavate tunnels, so they generally will use abandoned mole and gopher tunnels the establish their colonies. Voles can create as much damage as a gopher. Voles will gradually strip the bark from the base of shrubs and trees and eat roots, bulbs, tubers and seeds. You can read more about Voles at the UC Davis website. Remember, moles and gophers plug up their tunnels, unlike squirrels and voles who leave their tunnels open. Our traps work only on moles and gophers, so it is important to identify the pest creating damage to your property before purchasing our products. BACK TO TOP

How do I know if I have a mole? Two kinds of surface activity identify a mole: 1) A mound, or series of mounds of fluffy dirt. 2) Tunneling an inch under the surface of lawn, groundcover or dirt. You may see both mounds and surface tunneling or just one. The mounds can be from 3 to 24 inches wide. The mounds are round, symmetrical and conical, resembling a volcano. The dirt is fluffy with occasional dirt clods on top. Mounds can vary in size, but the volcano shape is characteristic of a mole. The surface tunnels look like the veins on the back of your hand or as if a snake has slithered under the surface. The shallow surface tunnels will usually be found along a manmade boarder, edges of concrete, bender boards, and walkways. Surface tunnels may also appear in the middle of your lawn or garden. The surface tunnels are evidence the mole is foraging for insects.

Traps Set Without Digging Out the Mound
Surface Tunnel
Fluffy Dirt Mold Mound
Mole Mounds in Yard
Click on photos to enlarge.

Generally, you will find mole activity in lawns and under emitters because insects are drawn to moisture. Moles are foraging in the moist locations for earthworms, grubs, beetles, larvae and all other insects living in the soil. Lawns are moist and fertile areas where the conditions usually support a plentiful supply of live food. As a mole searches for food, it creates an extensive network of surface feeding tunnels. Most of these foraging tunnels are used at irregular intervals and not optimal places to set a trap. However, this may be your only option. If this is the case, try to locate a straight surface tunnel along a manmade boarder. The straighter the surface tunnel, the more likely the tunnel may be used as a causeway from one area to another. However, the very best place to set traps in under a fresh mound. If given the choice, a mole will choose to excavate its burrow in high dry spots. However, it prefers to forage for insects in soil that is shaded, temperate, moist, and lush. You can learn more about moles at these university websites:


How do I know if I have a gopher? Gophers are often mistaken for moles. However, the surface evidence is quite different and not difficult to identify if you take the time to learn to identify gopher vs. mole activity. A goppher does not dig surface tunnels like a mole, and the gopher mound is shaped differently. If you look down on a gopher mound, you will see a distinct crescent or horseshoe shape with a plug of dirt at the top of the crescent or horseshoe. You should also see other mounds close by. If you don’t see fresh mounds, look closely for freshly plugged holes 2-3 inches in diameter. These plugged holes can be difficult to spot, but may be your only opportunity to set a trap. The 2-3 inch plugged holes are referred to as “feedholes” because the gopher is not excavating at these places. It is digging to the surface to eat above ground, feeding close to the safety of its tunnel. Gophers always plug their tunnels and feedholes. If the tunnel is open, it is abandonned or possibly there is a vole living in the tunnel. As we mentioned in several answers, a gopher is strictly an herbivore. Gophers will eat just about any plant. The crescent shaped mound and dead and wilted plants are a good indication that a gopher is your culprit. A gopher locates plants and roots in three ways; 1) the gopher can clip the roots off below the surface where the damage is not quickly noticeable, or it might clip the base of a plant to just above the surface as it excavates tunnels, 2) the gopher can pull plants growing above the ground into its tunnel from below, or 3) the gopher will surface above-ground, venturing a short distance from their hole to snag plants near the opening. As mentioned before, these openings are known as feedholes and vary in diameter from 2-3 inches depending on the size of the gopher. Learning to spot fresh feedholes is an essential part of trapping. Understanding gopher eating habits will help identify your pest so you can use the correct size trap, trapping techniques and understand where to set traps.

A Perfect Gopher Mound
A Fresh vs Old Gopher Hole
Mole Damage in Lawn
Which is Fresher?
Click on photos to enlarge.

Once a gopher establishes its territory, it will fight to protect that territory. A 4-5 year old adult male gopher can control up to 2,000 square feet. With close observation, you can identify one gopher system by following the fresh mounds. It is important to note that on rare occasion, we have trapped a mole in a gopher tunnel system. It is rare, but if you trap a gopher and continue to see fresh activity, it may be necessary to change from the medium trap to the small trap to capture the mole. If the tunnel is sealed when you return a day or two later, and you continue to set the medium trap only to find the trap sprung, the solution might be to switch to the smaller trap. Finally, since both moles and gophers control large areas, the activity must be fresh. Both moles and gophers seal off unused tunnels. It is a waste of time to set a trap in a mole mound, a surface tunnel or a gopher mound or feedhole that it old. You can learn more about gophers by visiting: Read Managing Pocket Gophers by W.F. Andelt, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist and associate professor, fishery and wildlife biology; and R.M. Case, forestry, fisheries and wildlife, University of Nebraska. Also read GOPHER Control and Management Information at the Internet Center for Wildlife Damage Management in cooperation with Cornell University, Clemson University, Purdue University, University of Nebraska, and Utah State University. BACK TO TOP

Where do moles live? Yates and Pedersen (1982) list seven North American species of moles. They are the eastern mole (Scalopus aquaticus), hairy-tailed mole (Parascalops breweri), star-nosed mole (Condylura cristata), broad-footed mole (Scapanus latimanus), Townsend’s mole (Scapanus townsendii), coast mole (Scapanus orarius), and shrew mole (Neurotrichus gibbsii). To learn about mole distribution and locate maps of their distribution, go to: home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~campbelk/moledistribution.html BACK TO TOP

Where do gophers live? To learn about gopher species information and locate maps of their distribution, go to: University of California Cooperative Extension BACK TO TOP

Where can I see a mole? To see photos of the species of MOLES go to:http://home.cc.umanitoba.ca/~campbelk/moletunnel.html As we have mentioned in several answers, a mole is not a rodent. It is an insectivore related to the bat and shrew. While moles are often confused with meadow mice (voles) or gophers, they have very distinctive traits. Most important, pay attention to the surface damage the various animals create. Moles have a highly developed sense of smell and touch and are extremely sensitive to anything unnatural in their environment. Never tear up large sections of a mole tunnel trying to locate a good spot to set a trap. A poorly set trap is a detour sign for a wary mole. The Gopher Goner™ digging tool is essential for opening and clearing tunnels to set a good trap.

One Mole
Two Moles
Mole in a trap outside tunnel
Mole on a rock
Click on photos to enlarge.


Where can I see a gopher? To see photos of the species of gophers, go to: http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/pictures/Geomyidae.html The obvious physical difference between a gopher and a mole is the set of teeth that grow outside the gopher’s lips. As in all rodents, gophers must gnaw continuously to keep their teeth ground to an appropriate length. A gopher exerts tremendous pressure with its bite, up to 18,000 pounds per square inch. The second obvious physical characteristic is its fur-lined pouches on either side of the mouth. The pouches open next to each side of the opening of the mouth and reach back to the shoulders. When filled with food or bedding, the pouches make the gopher’s head looks almost twice its size. Gophers can turn these pouches inside out for to remove the plant material it gathers.

Mess With Me Buster
Gopher Pockets
Gopher Skin
Click on photos to enlarge.

The small ears and eyes are hardly worth mentioning, but they are visible. The whiskers and tail act as sensory devices. Interestingly, we have read that the tail also acts as a radiator, helping to maintain steady body temperature regardless of changes in the environment. BACK TO TOP

What do moles eat? As we have mention in several answers, moles eat insects. Now that you understand what moles eat, you will understand why the mole chooses the location on your property to excavate and forage. We have located moles in very unfavorable conditions, but most often they choose to dig in well kept lawns and gardens. They prefer to hunt for food in moist shady areas. Moles dig more commonly in moist fertilized areas because the conditions usually support an abundant supply of their favorite food—earthworms. It could be a compliment that the mole chose your property. Fertile soil means lots of worms. Watch out though, once established, moles aren’t particular. They will supplement their diet with just about any kind of bug or grub, millipedes, insect larvae, snails, and even an occasional frog or a litter of young mice. We even suspect that a mole will eat a recently trapped gopher because we have found a gopher trapped in a tunnel eaten from the tail to the head. Regardless of various prey, when the food supply dwindles, the mole will leave the area and return when foraging is favorable again. Moles do not hibernate and neither do worms and many insects. They all burrow deeper in the winter months to avoid freezing and drowning. Moles may damage your delicate annuals, ornamentals or trees by creating air pockets around roots, but they are not after plants. Moles use up so much energy digging through dirt that they must eat a lot of food to survive. They eat an enormous amount of food every day. Researchers report moles eat 50-75% of their body weight a day! A Mole must cover a lot more ground than other animals that live in the earth because it eats so much and it must eat its prey alive. It cannot store its food or store body fat. Researchers report that the territory of a mole extends 10-20 times that of a gopher’s territory. F. Robert Henderson, Extension Specialist, Animal Damage Control, offers this informative article about the Eastern Mole. No matter what species of mole in your region, you will find information about habitat, food supply, reproduction, damage and identification and control. BACK TO TOP

What do gophers eat? As we have mentioned in several answers, gophers are strict herbivores. People say that gophers are all mouth and no heart because they eat such a wide variety of plants. Their diet shifts seasonally according to the availability of food and the gopher’s needs for nutrition and water. For example, cactus plants loaded with water may become a major part of their diet during the hot and dry summer months in arid habitats. Plains gophers consume grasses, especially those with rhizomes, but they seem to prefer fleshy plants when they are succulent in spring and summer. Gophers eat above ground parts of vegetation mainly during the growing season, when the vegetation is green and succulent. The height and density of vegetation may also offer protection from predators, reducing the risk of short surface trips. Year-round, however, roots are the major food source. Many trees and shrubs are clipped just above ground level. This occurs mainly during winter under snow cover. Damage may reach as high as 10 feet above ground. Seedlings and grapevines also have their roots clipped by gophers. Gophers exist from low coastal areas to elevations above 12,000 feet. Gophers are found in a wide variety of soil types and conditions. They reach their greatest population densities in light-textured soils with rich leafy plants such as alfalfa, especially when the vegetation has large, fleshy roots, such as grape vines, roses, bulbs, and tubers.

gopher damage to carrots
Damaged hydrangea rootball
wilted vegetables
$400 Grape Viine...Gone
Click on photos to enlarge.


I’ve heard that moles and gophers are antisocial. Is that true and how does that effect trapping? Researchers describe moles and gophers as solitary and territorial animals. Solitary literally means that they live alone. You may think you have many moles or gophers in your property because of the extensive mounds both a mole and a gopher can create, but you probably only have one mole if you own a residential property and maybe 2 or 3 gophers if your residential property has never been trapped. Territorial means that both a mole and a gopher will NOT share their tunnel system with another animal of the same. Again, the number of mounds will cause you to believe that you have a “family.” However, gophers do not live in families, and while moles can share the same tunnel system during mating season, that is the only time a mole will share its burrow with another of the same. After mole and gopher pups are weaned, the male and female separate and are not social under any circumstances! It is important to know that a mole mates only once a year. Gophers will generally mate 2-3 times a year. However, in areas that support more dense populations, gophers can mate year round. Gophers are extremely aggressive. Never try to pick up a live gopher! An adult gopher is extremely territorial and will rigorously defend its territory against intruders. When one gopher meets another, they squeal and hiss at one another, and clack their teeth. They fight violently until one retreats, or until one or both are dead. A gopher is more territorial than a mole and will kill to defend its territory. A male gopher will kill the female he has recently mated and later, her pups should they enter his territory. But don’t make negative assumptions about adult males. The juveniles and females are just as vicious. A female will kill her pups after she has expelled them from her tunneling system. Once the pups are expelled, they must travel overland and seek their own territory. The live of a gopher is not easy. That being said, wild animals are never 100% predictable. On very rare occasions, we have trapped one gopher and a day later, returned to find the same tunnel plugged again. When this happens, we opened the tunnel, set a trap, and upon return to check the trap, have found a second mole or gopher caught in the trap. We have read research that a mole and a gopher can share common causeways without confrontation, but cannot explain how a second gopher can find the trap a day or two later. We only mention this to encourage you exhaust every trapping opportunity. Continue to set traps at any tunnel that you trapped and upon return, found plugged. Researchers report that a gopher runs it main tunnel, including all the fresh lateral tunnels leading to the main tunnel every 24-hours. Unfortunately, moles are not so predictable. However, if you open the main tunnel of a mole, usually under a freshly excavated mound, the air and light will bring the mole to the surface to check and make repairs. Our GopherGoner™ trapping system takes advantage of the day to day habits of moles and gophers. Read more about biology and behavior of gophers at the Utah State University Cooperative Extension BACK TO TOP

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We designed the 18-inch digging tool to pop the plug in a gopher tunnel, check for forking tunnels, and clearing debris without enlarging the tunnel. The Digging Tool can be used with any manufacturer of trap (Victor Easy Set, Sweeny, Macabee, Gophinator), but we highly recommend using a cinch trap. Whether trapping a gopher or a mole, this tool beats any screwdriver or Hori Hori Garden knife in price and effectiveness.
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